If you missed the BBC 4 drama On Expenses on Sunday night then you should get yourself over to BBC i-player (http://bbc.co.uk/i/r3qf4/) and catch it before it disappears. Ostensibly about the recent expenses scandals, the drama focuses on two of the players; American journalist Hannah Brooke, well played by Anna Maxwell Martin, and the much maligned Michael Martin, the ex-leader of the House who fell on his sword as others sought to save their skin. Martin is played by Brian Cox in an incredible performance which once again proves that he is ‘Scotland’s Greatest Living Actor’ TM.
After a worrying opening (Brooke is introduced in a dance studio working out to Irene Cara’s FAME while Martin is portrayed playing the bagpipes in his parliamentary office with a Celtic scarf draped over his chair) this proved to be a riveting account of how the story gained momentum. The fact that the drama plays fast and loose with real events didn’t detract from this. As it said in the opening credits ‘You couldn’t make this up’.
The supporting cast was also excellent, particularly Neal Pearson as the liberal QC. Pearson hasn’t been on screen for sometime and I’d forgotten what a likable actor he is. But have no doubt, this is Brian Cox’s show. Watch his performance then compare it to the real thing with this clip of Martin apologising to the country on behalf of the House. The following is an excruciating piece of film as MPs smell blood and round on this oh so convenient scape goat. The scene is recreated in the drama and is one of its highlights:
In interview with Mark Lawson in the programme that followed (also available on i-player) Cox claimed that his portrayal was not sympathetic but empathetic, and that sums it up perfectly. Cox manages to take a role that could have been cartoonish and give it real depth, realising the caricature of ‘Gorbal’s Mick’ that the majority of the press chose to portray hid a real person. It’s such a good performance that I watched it again straight away.
But that should be no surprise to anyone who has watched Cox’s career. The original screen Hannibal Lecter has managed to portray serial killers, paedophiles (in L.I.E) and military megalomaniacs (X2 and Troy) and do so with complexity and heart. It has become a cliche to claim that his Lecter is the best but that doesn’t make it less true. Here he is on screen in Manhunter for the first time. No mention of fava beans or Chianti, just the sense that this man would rip you apart given half the chance: