Vicious Episode One Review: Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi have a ball in this very old-fashioned sitcom

by Matt D


It’s fair to say that this year has already been a pretty good one in terms of British TV drama. Over the last few weeks this has been proved by the amount of buzz surrounding the finale of Broadchurch, which got everyone talking. However, while TV drama may well be on a high, our current comedy output is sorely lacking. Recent efforts such as Plebs, Being Eileen and The Wright Way have all fallen flat while I’m still baffled at why Mrs Brown’s Boys is as popular as it is. However ITV are now promoting a double bill of comedy on a Monday night which kicks off with old-fashioned sitcom Vicious.

Vicious stars legendary actors Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as Freddie and Stuart, a couple who have lived together for 48 years. Freddie’s career as an actor hasn’t gone exactly to plan and his biggest achievement has been killing a prostitute on Coronation Street. Meanwhile Stuart has essentially been the housekeeper of the two and has looked after his partner for the best part of half a decade. Now in their twilight years, the two spend their days bitching at each other in their eerie flat where the curtain remains shut at all times. Freddie and Stuart are a very insular couple and only have a handful of friends including Frances De La Tour’s over-the-top Violet. The first episode starts with the announcement of the death of Clive, who is revealed to be one of Freddie’s old flames. As is always the case Freddie overstates the nature of Clive’s desire for him and likes to think of himself as the love of Clive’s life. To celebrate their old friend, Freddie and Stuart decide to hold a small wake at their home for their close circle of friends.


Just after hearing the news of Clive’s death, Freddie and Stuart are pleasantly surprised when they meet a potential new neighbour in the young and handsome Ash. The couple both fawn over him and attempt to figure out whether or not he is straight. Violet is also instantly smitten with Ash and tries to use a number of modern references to prove how cool she really is. Later, when Ash tells him he got the flat, the pair invite him along to Clive’s wake mainly so they have something pretty to look at. The wake itself is poorly catered as the guests complain about the lack of food on offer. It is also revealed that Clive covered up his homosexuality well by marrying multiple times and having a number of children. The biggest revelation though is that Clive was actually in love with Stuart rather than Freddie, a fact that makes both question the way their lives turned out. Despite Stuart being hurt by Freddie’s words about his life choices, the couple eventually reconcile and realise that they do in fact love each other.

To call Vicious old-fashioned would be a massive understatement as nothing about it feels like it belongs in this century. The set itself screams old school sitcom as we have the living room front and centre, with the massive front door to one side and the swinging kitchen door to the other. The fact that Vicious is old-fashioned doesn’t mean it’s not funny and I have to say that I chuckled a couple of times. Predictable as they may be, the barbs that Freddie and Stuart throw at each other are still well-crafted. Stuart insults Freddie about his lack of success in the acting world and the fact that he over-dramatises every word he says. Meanwhile Freddie’s lines to Stuart mainly concern his high-pitched voice and the fact that he is totally bland. The pair also argue about who is the most Northern and over who is the oldest. I think the most memorable gag of this first episode has to be where Ash pulls the curtain in the couple’s flat only for them to almost die when natural light invades their home. However not all of the jokes are funny especially Violet’s lines to Ash when she attempts to drop in some modern references.


Obviously the main enjoyment of Vicious comes from watching Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi bicker at each other for thirty minutes. Both of the leads seem to be having an absolute ball and do a good job in playing exaggerated versions of themselves. From watching them interact together it is clear that they are old friends and that they are having a ball insulting each other. It is a credit to the pair’s abilities that I never once thought I was watching Gandalf and Claudius bitching at each other, but instead the pair were utterly believable as a couple of aging luvvies. Frances De La Tour is equally brilliantly cast as the couple’s dearest friend who is also able to dish up her own brand of insult. In addition, classically trained actors Marcia Warren and Philip Voss add their own style of wit to proceedings as the couple’s only other friends Penelope and Mason. In fact Vicious’ only misstep in casting is of Iwan Rheon as the pair’s neighbour Ash. At times Rheon looked to be fairly uncomfortable in the role and almost nervous at the prospect of working alongside a cast of veteran actors. To be fair to Rheon the part itself is woefully underwritten as Ash only serves as eye candy for the older characters to salivate over.

While Vicious may not win any prizes for originality, it is still a likeable enough sitcom thanks mainly to its leads. McKellen and Jacobi both seem to be having an absolute ball and this made the whole programme seem a lot more enjoyable. While most of the insults the couple trade are predictable, they are still funny and the pair make sure that no line is wasted. Vicious might not be for everybody but I feel it will hit a chord with a more mature audience who favour predictable gags over more well-observed fare. While I personally wasn’t a massive fan of Vicious I still enjoyed myself while watching it and that’s more than I’d ever expect I’d do while viewing an ITV sitcom.

Did you enjoy Vicious? What did you think to the pairing of Jacobi and McKellen? Leave Your Comments Below.