sun 14/07/2024

The Following Events Are Based on a Pack of Lies, BBC One - deliciously bingeable drama from the Skinner sisters | reviews, news & interviews

The Following Events Are Based on a Pack of Lies, BBC One - deliciously bingeable drama from the Skinner sisters

The Following Events Are Based on a Pack of Lies, BBC One - deliciously bingeable drama from the Skinner sisters

Alistair Petrie's unscrupulous conman is at the core of this twisty tale

Fool me once: Rebekah Staton as Alice Newman

They could have titled this series Gaslighting. It’s a sly and twisty thriller about a conman whose deadliest weapon is his gift for making his victims feel as if everything that happened to them was their own fault, and they brought it on themselves.

It’s written by sisters Penelope and Ginny Skinner, and it makes you wonder what ghastly experiences they might have gone through to be able to create a character as hideously unscrupulous as Dr Rob Chance. Or at any rate that’s the name he’s using when we first encounter him – through the eyes of one of his victims, Alice Newman (Rebekah Staton) – as he pushes his bicycle through the middle of Oxford, where he’s due to give a lecture at one of the colleges.

Clad in a suitably blizzard-proof orange anorak, Dr Chance is (he claims) an intrepid Arctic explorer and “ecopreneur”, committed to saving the environment via his Saattu Climate Academy. His unique selling point is “Disruptive Exploration”, which looks lovely when prefaced by a hashtag. For added plausibility, he’s hooked himself up with the eminent Sir Ralph Unwin (Derek Jacobi), a bumbling old codger crying out for a bit of shameless exploitation.

Alistair Petrie (The Night Manager, Sex Education etc) delivers an unnerving performance as Chance (pictured above). It’s a cold-blooded mixture of patrician superiority and military-style control, counterpointed whenever necessary by florid sentimentality, oleaginous fake sympathy or petulant whingeing when people don’t do as he tells them. Chance has the chiselled, clean-cut look of an astronaut or a mountaineer, which proves to be excellent camouflage for the black-hearted exploiter within.

He preys on women, and through them anyone or anything else he can suck into his orbit. As Petrie himself has commented, Chance “exists on more levels than any character I’ve ever played, in that his entire existence is one big lie yet he believes everything he says.” Maybe the art of fooling people is to make sure you’ve convinced yourself first.

It’s through Alice we get an idea of Chance’s modus operandi. When she was married to him, 15 years ago, he persuaded her and members of her family to invest in a property development scheme. Somehow, the project wasn’t quite working out as planned, so obviously Chance had no alternative but to hustle more money out of his nearest-but-not-dearest. Having squeezed them for everything he could get, he vanished in search of pastures new.

This leads him to Cheryl Harker (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, pictured below). She’s a successful novelist who has created her own fantasy universe which seems to sit somewhere between Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. She lives in an Italienesque villa called Arathdoon with expansive gardens and its own maze (the maze gets a nice walk-on performance at a crucial juncture in the drama, as does Cheryl’s sparky poodle, Goblin).

But she’s also grieving the loss of her husband, having nursed him through a long and harrowing illness. Thus she is vulnerable and ripe for the picking by the despicable Chance, who has little difficulty in persuading her that he’s the gallant Sir Lancelot she needs in her life. Meanwhile, he’s been working on a slick little scam to siphon off the money in the scholarship fund of which Cheryl is a trustee.

Despite the fact that the story frequently has you yelling “how can you be so bloody stupid?”at the screen, Pack of Lies has “bingeable” written all over it, even if the denouement is a little too whimsical after all the fine work that has led up to it. Performances are terrific all round, with Staton particularly good as a woman whose self-esteem has been badly holed below the waterline, but manages to screw up the courage to take the fight back to her tormentor. A trip to iPlayer, where you can find all five episodes, would seem mandatory.

The story frequently has you yelling 'how can you be so bloody stupid?' at the screen

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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