TV Viewpoint: Trust and The Rotunda

Even if you only have a vague notion of the strange story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty Jr in the 70s, you may well have heard about the 2017 film based on it, which last year was mired in controversy thanks to the firing of its star Kevin Spacey following a number of serious allegations made against him. Like that time two different studios adapted The Jungle Book at the same time, Trust is a TV series based on the true story, completely unrelated to the aforementioned film and probably all the better for it.

The first episode, which aired on BBC2 at 9pm on Wednesday, opened ostentatiously to the sounds of Pink Floyd’s Money, with an aerial shot capturing a gigantic garden party at a mansion in California. A deeply troubled man, bolstered by alcohol and drugs has barricaded himself into a garage armed with a garden fork. One by one each of the narrow windows on the door of the garage is taken up by a party-clothes clad woman, who plead in desperation with the man not to do what they think he’s going to do to himself. But do it he does, and the news of his death is delivered to his estranged father.

Donald Sutherland in Trust

The funeral takes place in the father’s adopted homeland of England, where he has ensconced himself as lord of the manor in a huge country pile, replete with black swans (one of which is run over on the way to the funeral service, unceremoniously and with gratuitous, foreboding gore), loyal servants and the poshest harem of women you’d ever hope to find. All the women appear to be very proper Brits, apart from one fiery Spanish lady, and the men who have John Paul Getty’s ear, for he is who the dead man’s father turns out to be, are fellow Americans. After the funeral appears the most American of them all; Getty’s grandson by another dead son, clad in a star-spangled t-shirt and bell bottom jeans.

The grandson is of course eyed first with suspicion by his uncles and his grandfather’s staff, then with jealousy when he shows an affinity for the oil business that made the Getty’s their fortune. He has been adrift in Italy and needs money to pay off debts; his grandfather will only give him the money if he earns it by starting at the bottom and working his way up, but unfortunately Getty Jr. needs the money now and is not willing to wait. Off he pops back to Rome, flared trousers trailing the country grit and black swan guts behind him, and by the end of the episode he has been bundled blindfolded into a car, setting the scene for the nine remaining episodes of the series.

Donald Sutherland plays John Paul Getty Sr. with the relish expected of a veteran actor faced with a truly beastly character. Getty is a self-created monster, sustained and nourished by institutionalised service staff and leeches whose perennial and constant humiliation at his hands trumps the gravy train they’re privy too. Sutherland brings the character a strange humanity, allowing glimpses of the loneliness a man like Getty must feel beneath his egregious behaviour. The rest of the characters will take a little longer to develop; the bevy of girlfriends headed by Anna Chancelor will surely have their moments, not to mention the numerous aggrieved offspring ready to pounce on their difficult dad’s fortune when the opportunity beckons. A dark, no holds barred opening episode can only mean that the only way is down, so I may as well continue to episode two if I can bear it, swan guts and all.

If a show about outrageously wealthy Americans and the viper’s nest that they live in doesn’t tickle your fancy you may want to tune into The Rotunda on RTE 2 on Thursday at 9.30pm. Following a number of expecting women and their families along with a selection of staff in the world’s oldest continuously operating maternity hospital, this often joyful, sometimes very sad and overwhelmingly emotional look into the beginning of life is not easy viewing but well worthwhile.

The Rotunda

The first episode followed, among others, a very sweet young couple about to have their first baby, the two professing their love and support for each other continuously as the labour intensified. On the other side of the coin was the very upsetting story of a baby who died in utero, and the consequences before and after that his parents were faced with. Not for the faint hearted, there were graphic scenes of birth galore, but each and every one is a story worth being told, and it’s nothing short of a miracle to have this access and insight into the ups and downs of the families of Ireland.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 19.09.18

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