Last Night’s TV – On expenses

by Lynn Connolly

We are all, of course, well familiar with the whole expenses scandal debacle, and to the majority of us, the news that our MPs were taking liberties with their expenses was as big a surprise as night following day; in other words, no surprise at all.

However, given that the Telegraph took all the credit for exposing the scandal, I wasn’t particularly aware of the role that Heather Brooke – an investigative journalist – played in it all. She was in fact instrumental in bringing about a full disclosure of the often ludicrous expenses that MPs claimed.

Using the Freedom of Information Act of 2000 as her weapon of choice, she campaigned tirelessly to have the truth about those expenses reimbursements – which of course we taxpayers were funding – made public.

It took her five long years and made her many, many enemies along the way. And Anna Maxwell Martin did a fine job of portraying Heather’s journalistic endeavour, even if it did sometimes come across as bordering on fanaticism. But perhaps that’s how it really was, and if so, Martin managed to embrace that without it coming across as a one-woman witch hunt.

The wonderful Brian Cox did a similarly sterling job of playing the then Speaker of the House, Michael Martin. Martin’s bluff and bluster and innate loyalty – even though that loyalty was very much misplaced – came across well thanks to Cox’s interpretation of the character.

Likewise, Tim Pigott-Smith’s on-screen presence added a certain gravitas to the film which was, in equal parts, darkly funny and just plain dark.

But my main complaint about real-life dramas is when the makers of them add – as we saw last night – the opening caveat, “Some scenes have been imagined.” Or, put another way, “Don’t sue us, we told you we made some stuff up.”

So although the core message of the film was to relay the true events that led to the whole shebang being laid bare before a justifiably furious public, I would rather have had only scenes that were a more-or-less verbatim replay. That’s because we viewers don’t know which scenes are a true representation and which have been “imagined.”

However, the minor niggle aside, this was an interesting watch. It was a bit like seeing the explosive laid and the first impacts of it from inside the building rather than just footage from above of a crumbling tower.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.