★ ★ ★ ★
‘Empathy? Yes. Sympathy? Couldn’t give a fuck.’
Peter Mullan’s disinclination to curry favour on behalf of the people he portrays has paid rich dividends in a career studded with troubled, troubling character roles, from ‘My Name is Joe’ to ‘Red Riding’. Which is just as well in the case of four-part drama ‘The Fear’, in which Mullan takes on self-professed ‘evil bastard’ Richie Beckett. A Brighton gangster gone straight over a decade ago, Richie is cultivating respectability by fronting the latest redevelopment bid for the city’s derelict West Pier. But this fresh start comes under siege from three directions: drug-dealing, people-traficking Albanians moving in on his hard-won turf; his bickering sons, coke-addled liability Cal (Paul Nicholls) and level-headed pragmatist Matty (Harry Lloyd); and – the most inexorable threat of all – the aggressive onset of Alzheimer’s.
As a noirish thriller, ‘The Fear’ delivers. There’s mystery: why the opening flashforward to a beachfront attempt on a befuddled Richie’s life? And violence: lots of it, both physical and emotional. And a truly seedy environment which wrenches the sordid side of Brighton from the clutches of Graham Greene and casts it towards Dante. This is hell-on-sea – even a unicyclist gets a kicking – and it’s made all the worse by viewing it through the eyes of a man slowly losing his sense of self. Indeed, it’s Mullan’s electrifying performance that really makes it work as a character piece.‘Richie’s a nasty son of a bitch who has made a living out of people’s poverty and addictions,’ says Mullan. ‘What intrigued us was bringing together a highly unsympathetic character with a disease that… well, obviously one does feel for the sufferers.’ As a scrapper, Richie’s instinctive response to his depening confusion is to lash out – but his internal conflicts are no less striking.
Michael Samuels’s direction makes the most of this, subjecting Mullan to some pretty unforgiving close-ups throughout. If an actor could be Bafta-nominated for his eyes alone, Mullan would be booking his seat for the ceremony next year. And his brand of seething restraint (albeit punctuated by explosive violence) brings similarly cagey and impressive performances from Nicholls, Lloyd and a man usually more prone to arch over-elaboration, Richard E Grant (as a face from Richie’s past). Like the city in which it’s set, ‘The Fear’ is a drama with plenty of front. But it’s the action behind the scenes that could make this unmissable.‘'The Fear' airs nightly from Monday December 3 to Thursday December 6, 10pm, Channel 4.
Source (including video): Time Out