Writer: James Graham
Director: Stephen Frears
At the end of Episode One of James Graham’s new show Quiz, suspected cheat Charles Ingram had just received the call selecting him as one of the potential gameshow contestants and the audience had been introduced to all the key players at ITV and Celador as their now worldwide franchise came under attack from determined quizzers determined to hijack the show. While Diana Ingram mulls over her brother’s money troubles, the hapless Charles steps into the spotlight, so let’s play Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
In Episode Two we are finally at the business end of this cracking drama as designer Stephen Campbell and set decorator Amanda George unveil their perfect recreation of the circular Millionaire studio with central consoles and dramatic lighting effects. Like Robert Jones’ set for the play, it’s flashy and overwhelming, while making it the ideal space for Ingram’s peculiar performance on the show that quickly raised suspicion among the floor crew.
The tension in these question and answer sequences is extraordinary as Matthew Macfadyen’s Charles vocalises his odd thought process, tracking back and forth over his answers and rapidly changing his mind. The advantage director Stephen Frears has over the theatre version is being able to cut to intense close-ups of Macfadyen’s glistening face as sweat trickles through the gameshow make-up while Michael Sheen’s incredible Chris Tarrant piles on the pressure.
Even though we all know what happens, not just because of Graham’s court case framework, the original play and widespread publicity in 2001, watching this version of Ingram travel through the process is almost unbearably tense – a credit still to the power of Paul Smith and David Briggs’ gameshow format. As Frears intersperses shots of the unreadable but potentially suspicious face of Diana (Sian Clifford) with images of Michael Jibson as alleged accomplice Tecwen Whittock, it seems like an open and shut case.
Because everything in this episode is carefully skewed to emphasise their guilt; the testing of four pagers by Diana and Adrian, convenient calls between the co-conspirators, the convoluted pacing of Charles’s answers and all that perfectly timed coughing. And who is the first to really notice? A guy in the control booth eating a Pot Noodle – a lovely bit of visual humour. Even as the “Celebrity Crime Squad” are called in, Charles’s reaction to the accusations is bizarrely muted and accepting, they clearly did it, didn’t they?
And it is interesting that this episode comes with no initial courtroom bombast, we don’t need Nicholas Woodeson’s QC to explain this evidence to the jury; it all surely speaks for itself? Graham is manipulating us of course, what we’re seeing all happened but perhaps only in one, selective version of events. This is what is making Quiz such compelling viewing. The story is so strange you just couldn’t make it up, but every minute of this episode is packed with incident that may not be all it seems and like Millionaire it is relentlessly watchable.
Macfadyen, Sheen and Mark Bonnar as Paul Smith continue to be outstanding, while Clifford’s Diana is pitching her performance so well you just don’t know if she’s a wife irritated by her husband’s tics or in the midst of a murky deceit. The hour is up far too quickly, and we’re left with a mini-cliffhanger, the wonderful Helen McCrory as Sonia Woodley announcing the case for the defence. As we all tune in for Episode Three’s grand finale, prepare to let Graham twist your thoughts once again.
Continues on ITV and also available here