Soapy British Political Drama Delivers
By Rebecca Strassberg | October 29, 2020 | Variety
We’ve been conditioned — mostly thanks to corruption, greed and a steady abuse of power — to mistrust politicians. For many, skepticism is such a deep-rooted emotion when it comes to the government, even being too trustworthy becomes suspicious. But you need not worry, that isn’t that case for Hugh Laurie’s Peter Laurence, the center of PBS Masterpiece’s saucy political miniseries “Roadkill.” Go ahead and bank on those instincts. What begins as a straightforward story unravels into an interconnected evening soap, better paired with gin than tea and crumpets.
When introduced, well-known political figure Laurence has just won a libel lawsuit. A smug grin from ear to ear, he’s off to discuss it with Mick the Mouth on “Alltalk,” a trashy radio show on which he appears weekly. It seems par for the course these days that a once guarded political figure could go off the rails on the airwaves or social media. High off getting his way in the high court, Laurence says, “People like me because I break the rules,” foreshadowing what’s to come.
Writer-producer David Hare has placed Laurence in a post-Brexit, pre-coronavirus pandemic world. There are no big issues for him to face, other than the many he’s created for himself. He’s a timeless politician — perhaps the worst kind — whose charm, powerful connections and disloyalty will get him everywhere he needs to go. While the premise of the show is that Laurence’s private life is falling apart… it never quite does. Hare has written a character far too powerful and manipulative to let something like that happen. Though it’s suspected in the first 20 minutes, it’s later confirmed that Laurence lied under oath. And it’s naive to think that if he got away with this, he can’t fix anything else going wrong, be it his marriage or a brewing scandal.
Focused on Laurence as it is, the series’ value rests, in large part, in its multiple story lines and how they weave together. Who are the people Laurence wronged and how will they get vengeance?
There’s Laurence’s wife, Laurence’s girlfriend, Laurence’s former legal team, the prime minister, the investigative journalist who brought on the libel suit and so on. The fun lies in how the connections and vendettas continue to reveal themselves, as it’s learned not all of these criminal and ethical offenses happen within the four hours of “Roadkill.” Throughout the miniseries, Laurence does commit acts of betrayal, some of which revenge is served and some it’s merely plotted. However, it’s what Laurence’s done to these people in the past — and certainly what he’ll do in the future — that leaves so many possibilities.
Laurie, hugely popular to both Brits and Americans, might be the initial draw for audiences but can’t sustain on his own. The show simply isn’t written that way. Helen McCrory (“Penny Dreadful”), Sarah Greene (“Normal People”) and Iain De Caestecker (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), as well as the rest of the cast, give performances as well-acted and important as Laurie’s. Though Laurence, too, is part of a well-orchestrated ensemble — he couldn’t have gotten this far without the people he burned along the way — he’s far too self-centered to admit it.
“Roadkill” could go on for hours following Laurence’s immoral rise to the top. There’s no limit to what this man is capable of and what scorned friends and former colleagues are lurking in the distance. Best it ends where it does though. He’s done enough damage.
Roadkill premieres Sunday, November 1 at 9 p.m. on PBS Masterpiece.