Monday, 6 August 2012

The Last Weekend ITV1 with Shaun Evans, Rupert Penry-Jones PREVIEW

Rupert Penry-Jones as Ollie and Shaun Evans as Ian
Rupert Penry-Jones and Shaun Evans as the best of frenemies
Rating: ★★★

ITV1: starts Sunday, 19 August, 9pm

Story: Successful barrister Ollie Moreton invites old college friend Ian Goade, a primary school teacher, to visit him for an August bank holiday at his country home in Suffolk. Ollie and Ian, along with their wives, Daisy and Em, have a shared past and during the course of the weekend, old seething rivalries and sexual tensions reach dangerous levels.

Amid the Olympic euphoria, normal TV drama has been the big, fat loser – hence ITV1 being annihilated in the ratings. Mind you, they have thrown in the towel with limping repeats – Midsomer Murders v Jessica Ennis is no contest.

But as London 2012 comes to an end, ITV1 is ready for a comeback with this gem of a psychological thriller about male jealousy. It's got fine performances, particularly from Shaun Evans, and a totally engrossing story in which you have to be alert to keep up with the machinations of the characters.

Rupert Penry-Jones plays Ollie
Mind games – Ollie
It is based on Blake Morrison's novel. It is a tightly set story, based around a small group at a country house over a blisteringly hot bank holiday. It is blissfully free of stupid plot twists, focusing instead on characters and emotions we all recognise.

Rupert Penry-Jones as Ollie
Ian and Em are visiting Ian's old college mate Ollie – Rupert Penry-Jones – and his wife, Daisy, whom Ian once dated. Ian is a primary school teacher and Ollie a wealthy barrister. Their 'friendship' is a powder keg of competitiveness and festering jealousy that has an almost sexual element.

No sooner are Ian and Em out of their crappy car, which has a coat hanger for an aerial, than Ollie is insisting he and Ian hit the golf course to compete for a crazy £1000 wager, the first event of their traditional 'triathlon'. It's an uncomfortable match of niggles and gamesmanship.

Ian is our subjective narrator
Shaun Evans as Ian is the central figure here, as character and to-camera narrator, with the story slipping into the future and Ian commenting on past events. He is a chippy, deceitful figure, still hugely turned on by Daisy, played with insouciant sexiness by Genevieve O'Reilly. Claire Keelan is the devoted, likeable Em, who slowly starts to pick up on some of Ian's provocations.

Claire Keelan and Genevieve O'Reilly
Claire Keelan as Em and Genevieve O'Reilly as Daisy
Goodness, but Ian is covetous and dishonest, while Ollie similarly has nasty sides, with an unpleasant hostility to his son and a near psychotic need to engineer some pastime at which he can grind down his less successful friend. You just know that despite the middle-class respectability, things are going to end brutally.

Engrossing and beautifully shot
Penry-Jones and Evans – soon to reprise his role as ITV1's Endeavour – have appeared together in Whitechapel and Silk, and here they are engrossing as the mates locked in a destructive tangle. The whole three-parter – scripted by Mick Ford, directed by Jon East – is beautifully paced and shot.

ITV may have taken a drubbing this summer, but here they're finally playing a blinder. Don't miss it.

Cast: Rupert Penry-Jones Ollie, Shaun Evans Ian, Genevieve O’Reilly Daisy, Claire Keelan Em, Alexander Karim Milo, Hugh Mitchell Archie, Elisha Johnson Natalie, Mya-Lecia Naylor Bethany, Dan Cohen Student Ian, Alexander Owen Student Ollie, Nicola Millbank Student Daisy, Anthony Green John, Taylor Nelson-Morrison Campbell, Helen Anderson Mrs Baynes