This Quiz review contains spoilers.
“People like us don’t deal with the police,” Diana Ingram (Sian Clifford) tells her husband in episode two, adding with Clifford’s precise comic timing, “this is Wiltshire.”
It’s half a gag at the expense of cosy middle England, and half an insight into the part that class plays in this scandal. Risks are taken either by people with nothing to lose, or by people who have never lost. The Ingrams, wellies-and-Le Creuset types from comfortable backgrounds, look very much like the latter.
That’s partly why their concerted efforts (whether judged as criminal or not) to take cash from Who Wants to be a Millionaire? feel egregious. Like that of Judith Keppel, the show’s first millionaire, granddaughter of an Earl and third cousin to the Duchess of Cornwall, any win by them would be tough to celebrate. Line it up with expenses-fiddling, tax evasion or charitable status private schools, and it all feels like another privilege loophole, a swindle perpetrated by a class of habitual swindlers.
Quiz loops all that subtext in to its high-tension caper with an impressively light touch. The Ingrams aren’t demonised for their privilege here, far from it, but their social status is never not there. It’s in Chris Tarrant’s repeated mockery of the Major’s army title, and in the general assumption among the studio crew that Charles Ingram is a rugger bugger moron. Without preaching or overstatement, class is made as much part of this story as fairness and justice.
All those capital letter Themes are rightly secondary to a sensational story told energetically by a top cast. This drama has the ‘did they do it?’ hook of a crime thriller, plus comedy, plus the borrowed tension of the quiz show format that takes up much of this episode. Television-wise, it’s a Swiss Army Knife – multifaceted and, with just three episodes, handily pocket-sized.
As production company Celador knew, the quiz format comes with a ready-made dramatic structure – tension, peril, climax, resolution. Wrap an emotional story around it, and, as this (and an Oscar-winning film by Danny Boyle) proves, you can’t go far wrong. An additional draw is being able to see behind the scenes on a huge hit like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Members of the public regularly queue for hours in the British weather to be part of television studio audiences. Quiz lets us through the hallowed back door.
What we find behind it in episode two is panic. As the Major climbs his way to the million on a convoluted route of abrupt changes in direction and unexplained bursts of inspiration, the production crew becomes increasingly uneasy. ‘Normal people don’t play like this,’ says producer David Briggs (Elliot Levey). When 9/11 stops play the day after the studio recording, the vast difference in scale between one event and the other feels like a divine joke.
Matthew Macfadyen is terrific as Ingram, playing the nation’s fool. He’s matched by Michael Sheen, who serves a double dramatic purpose in the show-within-a-show, both as presenter and commentator. As Tarrant, he directly addresses the audience (therefore, us) and recaps the absurdity of what’s going on. After handing over the cheque, Tarrant could be seen to condemn Charles Ingram as roundly and slyly as Marc Anthony condemned Brutus with his ‘honourable man’ speech in Julius Caesar. ‘The best player we have ever had, what a man, quite an amazing man,’ Tarrant insists. ‘I have no idea how you did it’.
The producers have an idea. In the forensic post-match analysis, a theory is formulated and everybody takes a position. Are the Ingrams cheeky bastards or hardened criminals? Guilty as sin or merely victims of a series of horrible coincidences?
Quiz takes an even-handed approach, neither censure nor apology, but at this stage it seems less a question of whether the Ingrams cheated than exactly how. But then again, with the case for the defence still to come, like the Major, we may yet have a sudden change of mind.
Quiz concludes on Wednesday 15th April at 9pm on ITV.