ITV three-parter gets under the skin of its affair in well-measured drama
Written by: James Graham, James Plaskett, Bob Woffinden
Starring: Matthew Macfayden, Sian Clifford, Trystan Gravelle, Michael Sheen
Last week’s Quiz, split into three, 45 minute-parts and broadcast on ITV, followed the 2001 Who Wants to Be a Millionaire scandal that saw Major Charles Ingram, his wife Diana and conspirator Tecwen Whittock accused of cheating after the former won the show’s million-pound jackpot. It walks us through this carefully over the cumulative near-2.5-hour running time; we start with Millionaire’s very conception, get a glimpse into the lives of the Ingrams and see a developing conspiracy, all before episode one is concluded. We then move on to the proposed cheating in question (in which Charles wins), and then the trial; episode three largely acts as a courtroom drama. There isn’t a whole lot preventing Quiz being shown as a feature considering its length, aside from the fact that the segmented portions make it more digestible and structurally clean-cut — which is a fine reason. It works quite nicely as a mini-series.
The series has lots going for it. For one thing, the performances as a whole are very good — clearly well-directed by Stephen Frears — with Matthew Macfayden giving great naturalism as the central Charles Ingram, and Mark Bonnar delivering an extremely watchable producer head, to name a few. Surprising no-one, Michael Sheen’s impression of Chris Tarrant is also a joy to watch; as many have noted online, he does a great job of channeling the host, despite an obvious barrier of resemblance. The series is handsome and efficiently photographed, too (lensed by Hubert Taczanowski), and the dialogue is well-organised and emotive. Materially, Quiz checks all the strengths it ought to.
Crucially, though, the series gets to the heart of its subject matter. Innocent or guilty? After watching it, I’m mostly undecided. Quiz puts forward cases for both interpretations, of course, but this isn’t the point; it successfully illustrates that we can never really know the answer. Pivotal moments are obscured from the audience and then deliberated in court, and, similarly, the audience is privy to certain things that are not picked-up on in and around episode three. In this sense, the ITV drama plays with viewers expectations in subtle ways that are interesting and very appreciable; in places, it reminded me of a much-diluted Caché in its utilisation of showing and giving us certain moments but never addressing them head-on. For me, its strengths, especially in its final moments, rode on this, and the show’s hesitance to be direct. For example, we see Adrian duck out to use the phone but never see what he’s actually doing with it; we are then presented with the judge’s assumption, versus Diana’s excuse. We, as the audience, are encouraged to assemble this evidence ourselves, and are not shown the occurrence in a plain way, as might be the case in other biopic dramas. We also have no idea, as much as anyone else aside the Ingrams, whether the couple (or just Diana) conferred or conspired between shooting days with Whittock, but are instead given pieces and asked to consider it. This philosophy of context in portraying the scandal’s uncertainty (it is sympathetic to the Ingrams in this way, but not solely) is where Quiz excels. Viewers who want answers will either blithely accept the well-put case for the Ingrams’ innocence in the courtroom, or come away still unsure.
And so, I really liked Quiz. It jumps between delivering well-paced, attentive drama concerning Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and its history and facets — as well the so-called “syndicate” of those who managed to beat the gameshow’s system — and painting an indicative image of the scandal and its fallout. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, and clocks in at an appropriate running time for the series to be both thorough and watchable. Quiz can be watched online at ITV Hub for about another month or so — check it out there if you missed it for a solid drama. Final answer.