National Treasure, Hulu’s new British import, is designed to make the audience feel uncomfortable. Written by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child playwright Jack Thorne, this four-part mini-series stars Harry Potter‘s Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid in the films) as Paul Finchley, a washed-up yet beloved comedian whose life starts to fall apart after he’s accused of raping two women in the 1970s. This premise scarily and purposefully evokes recent headlines — and to great effect. Thorne and director Marc Munden craft a gripping tale that scrutinizes the pedestals upon which we place celebrities.
Coltrane is phenomenal in episode 1, which focuses on Paul’s reaction to the accusations; there’s a quiet menace lurking beneath the surface of his teddy-bear-like exterior that makes viewers wonder whether or not he’s guilty and question the things he’s been allowed to get away with just because he’s a male celebrity.
But what makes National Treasure such a horrifying, engrossing tale is that the show also turns the lens on the women on Paul’s life: his devoted and devoutly Catholic wife Marie (Julie Walters) and his troubled daughter Dee (Andrea Riseborough), both of whom are forced to reexamine their entire lives in the wake of the accusations. Episode 2 shifts the focus to Dee, who is currently living in a halfway house for drug addicts. This dream-like hour finds Dee probing her untrustworthy memory for any clues that might suggest her father’s innocence or guilt. Is he capable of these things? Did she actually pick up something inappropriate between her father and her then-15-year-old babysitter, one of her father’s accusers? Or is she just making it up? Episode 3 turns its attention to Marie, who has always been aware of some of her husband’s imperfections, not least of all his infidelity, and is forced to consider whether or not she has enabled him. Both actresses are riveting as their characters try to resist their creeping doubt, ever-present thanks to Munden’s direction. Intimate close-ups uncomfortably draw viewers in, inviting them to scan Paul’s face for any sign of guilt, and nearly every scene feels like it’s bordered by darkness, heightening the sense of claustrophobia and uncertainty.
While the story’s slow, deliberate pacing can be frustrating at times, it’s definitely rewarded in the fourth and final episode, which takes place during Paul’s trial and finally gives his victims a chance to speak and tell their stories (although, it would have been nice to hear from them sooner). With a series like this, there’s definitely reason to worry about whether or not the show can stick the landing; but the ending is satisfying without betraying the nuanced writing and characterization that came before.