Syndicate (series 3)

A likeable drama based on a group of people winning the lottery would be the basis for a one-off drama but not a series.  In fact one that expanded to three series, though I’ve only seen the last on Netflix, not the first where Tim Spall plays the manager of a convenience store where staff win a fortune, nor the second with Alison Steadman and Mark Addy.

But getting back to the point, how are you going to introduce a touch of spice and intrigue into the scenario, to make a drama out of a series, other than the inevitability of a variation on Chaucer‘s The Pardoner’s Tale, with a motto that money is the root of all evil?

Firstly, by making the syndicate members of staff of a crumbling country house owned by a sickly member of the aristocracy and his slightly dodgy step-family, who are trying to persuade a group of wealthy Americans to buy the place?  Good start, especially if the lottery win goes towards saving said mansion from a fate worse than death and the cast is peppered with well-known faces… but still not enough.

What will drive the narrative for 6 hours of screen time?  Obviously a twisty thriller would help, especially if one of the main protagonists – diabetic Amy (played by Daisy Head) whose pregnant mother Dawn (Elizabeth Berrington) leads the syndicate – goes missing in episode one and a kidnap yarn is woven around the simpler business of actually spending the loot and saving the stately home.

I’d have quite happily lost the intrigue and just left Kay Mellor‘s drama as a single episode, but the good thing here is that Mellor has created some lively and interesting characters and done a splendid job in coaxing excellent performances from a brilliant cast.

Case in point: Lenny Henry is a renowned comedian and broadcaster, among the royalty of British entertainers.  He has branched out into Shakespeare and, from what I hear, done an excellent job.  In a straight acting role playing an autistic gardener with a penchant for mathematical patterns and briefly a suspect, he is utterly convincing.  More than that, he looks like he was born to play the role, so naturally does it come – even if it plays into the hands of a comic’s timing and ability to launch into a lengthy spiel.  I’m greatly looking forward to Henry playing more straight roles and challenging himself further.

Indeed, you could say there is a relaxed cosy charm throughout the cast which somewhat negates the tension Mellor is trying to arouse.  They all look perfectly comfortable, with the exception of Anthony Andrews as Lord Hazelwood, owner of the debt-ridden country pile, ill following a stroke and married for a quarter of a century to a shifty second wife played by the glorious Alice Krige (how many years since I’ve seen her on screen?  Way too long!) and her sinister boat and Audi-owning son Spencer Cavendish (Sam Phillips.)

Andrews does a fine job as the decent aristocrat, all the more so when he pulls together his faculties, takes charge and disposes of said wife – but then the twists also include his love for his cook and apparent fathering of an illegitimate child, which at one time would have cast him as the evil lord.  A welcome return to the screen, either way.

In all, this is a pleasing but minor series.  It’s not going to advance the art but will entertain or divert slightly, if that’s what you need.

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