Robbie Coltrane stars as Paul Finchley in Channel 4's National Treasure, a celebrity whose life falls off a cliff after he's accused of sexual assault...
Harry Potter star Robbie Coltrane plays a fictional celebrity who’s accused of rape in National Treasure, a new Channel 4 drama that’s bound to cause a stir when it hits screens this weekend.
Inspired by Operation Yewtree and the public horror that came following the discovery of Jimmy Savile’s terrible crimes, the four-part series asks serious questions about how victims and suspects of sexual assaults are treated.
Robbie knows it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But after being horrified and fascinated by Operation Yewtree, he felt it raises important issues which should be discussed.
“I never met Savile and never wanted to,” he said. “I always thought he was a creepy wee s****, you could tell, couldn’t you? But so many people felt like that. The real giveaway was that none of the women he met liked him. But the whole big question is what kind of culture was going on that he got away with it as long as he did. A really toxic culture.”
Yet for every convicted sex offender, there is an innocent celebrity whose name is dragged through the mud. For every Rolf Harris, there is a Cliff Richard.
Robbie plays much-loved comedian Paul Finchley – one half of a celebrated double act – and in the opening episodes the audience have no idea whether he is guilty or not.
“It’s what happens to your life when something like that happens,” said Robbie. “We want debate. It’s about making sure those who are guilty are caught, but also about making sure the victims are counselled and helped and even offered a few bob.”
“I never knew anyone who’s been arrested. But day to day you’d open the papers and think, ‘Oh s***.’ Sometimes I’d say, ‘Oh I always f***ing knew he was an a***.’ Other times you’d think, ‘He’s a nice bloke’. It’s like any criminal case. Sometimes the cops get it wrong.”
The Harry Potter said victims should be put first after so many were ignored for decades, yet he admitted feeling sympathy for Cliff Richard, who watched his house being raided by police on TV.
“It’s not for the BBC to publish the police business. But they did,” he explained. “They filmed it from a helicopter. They filmed all the police cars turning up. Of course I feel for him. I feel for anyone who’s innocent.”
Some have suggested that just a few years after the discovery of Savile’s crimes, this drama is a little close to the bone, yet Robbie was determined to make it for the victims.
“That was our motivation,” he said. “There are an awful lot of unhappy people out there because someone abused them. It’s a selfishness that’s beyond imagination. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the way it was written we felt very safe.”
The subject matter might be dark, but Robbie says he had a great time filming the drama as he was working with fellow Harry Potter star Julie Walters, who plays his wife Marie.
“It was a joy working with Julie,” he said. “We didn’t film at the same time on Harry Potter so we didn’t really know each other, but we felt like we did. We never once argued about what a scene meant or how to play it. Some actors you work with, you think, ‘What the f***?’”
National Treasure begins this Sunday on Channel 4