Review by C.J. Bunce
We’re always on the lookout for the next great British/Irish/Scottish/UK police procedural or mystery, and the new Hugh Laurie four-part star vehicle Roadkill may not be the Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes, Hinterland or Shetland, Marchlands or Lightfields, Derry Girls, The Woman in White, Mr. Selfridge, Zen, Quirke, or Sherlock, but it’s better than most of the UK series that have made it to the small screen in the past few years. Airing in the UK on BBC One this past Fall and first in the U.S. as part of PBS’s Masterpiece series, it is now available on Amazon and DVD (still the PBS choice platform for British productions). A lucky show that finished production before the pandemic kicked into full force, Roadkill will be a must-see for Laurie fans, and its angle on politics and telling a politician’s personal story should be enough to keep other anglophiles interested.
Hugh Laurie’s high-ranking British politician Peter Laurence is not like his role as Greg House on House, MD, and yet the character has more in common than just the actor behind it. Laurence is flawed, sure-footed, pragmatic, charismatic, and confident–even strident–in his private and public life. Fans of House, MD, will find Laurie much more sympathetic and amiable this time (closer to the comedic actor of decades past), and that sounds crazy considering he is a government cabinet minister (note for Americans: that’s not a religious minister) only a notch below the Prime Minister spot. He’s also a liar, a bad father, a worse husband, an adulterer, and he may even have a third daughter he wasn’t aware of. He’s been sued for something he actually did wrong and he won, costing a reporter’s job and a million and half pounds in damages to the newspaper she worked for by way of defamation. In a real world of crooked politicians always winning, that probably doesn’t sound like good television, right?
We first meet Laurence as he appears on a recurring local radio show, hosted by Tony Pitts (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Mick “The Mouth” Murray. Laurence tells listeners the straight dope, which consists of the official political view (always in line with the Prime Minister) merged with some everyman truth. What plays out is a politician who is always making mistakes, and yet when you parse out the “why” of those mistakes the answer is Laurence actually has the best interests of England at heart, whether back in his days promoting health outside the official bounds of the law via a partnership of America and the National Health Service, or as the Minister of Justice, against the Prime Minister’s tough-on-crime stance as he tries to improve a prison system that has an out-of-control suicide rate and other poor conditions.
What story are director Michael Keillor (Mr. Selfridge) and writer David Hare (Collateral) trying to tell? That’s a bit tough to figure out. Like his series Collateral (reviewed here at borg), Hare aims for talking about authentic, human relationships. His wife, played by Saskia Reeves (Luther, Shetland) knows he’s cheating on her, but keeps busy with her own career and seems fine to be letting him get on. His mistress, played by Sidse Babett Knudsen (Westworld) seems isn’t dependent on Laurence either. Only his youngest daughter, a walking disaster played by Millie Brady (The Queen’s Gambit, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), is out of sorts–with him and the rest of the series characters–because she wants him to acknowledge and apologize for his public and private faults. The bulk of the third episode chronicles a family meeting where Laurence is the target of his daughter for his personal failings, but this drifts from the more interesting main plot, Laurence getting promoted up the political ladder despite his actions and choices. At one point the Prime Minister, played expertly by Helen McCrory (His Dark Materials, Life, the Harry Potter films), asks him if the reason for his success without being required to ever really answer for his actions is because of misogyny. A good question for the character and real-life politicians like him. (McCrory was made for this role, and would make a great M in the Bond series).
Subplots include an investigation by the reporter (played by Dublin Murders’ Sarah Greene), a leak in Laurence’s office, the involvement of Laurence’s defense counsel who helped clear his name, frequent dressings-down by the Prime Minister, and a potential scandal: the arrival of a previously unknown daughter, played by Shalom Brune-Franklin (Line of Duty, Thor: Ragnarok), currently residing in prison. What could have had some better development is the machinations of the two advisers to Laurence and the Prime Minister, played by Iain De Caestecker and Olivia Vinall (The Woman in White). At times they seem to be the puppet masters behind the actual running the government work of both Laurence and the Prime Minister, illustrating the fragile nature of modern government.
Hugh Laurie is so much fun to watch, it begs the question of whether he’d make (or would have made) a good Doctor on Doctor Who.
This is not much of a mystery, as usually found in the PBS Masterpiece playbook, most of the revelations are telegraphed early and predictable. But the acting and characters make this an easy choice for four quick hours of television.
Better than The Silence, The Five, The Missing, Thirteen, Broadchurch, David Hare’s Collateral, and Dublin Murders. The four episodes of Roadkill are streaming on Amazon Prime and available on DVD here at Amazon.