"Hitman with all the punchlines"
by Benedict Nightingale
26 October 1992
Last night's BBC Screen One film, Trust Me, was a welcome attempt
to inject humour into a series not usually notable for its sense
Tony Sarchet has penned scripts for Jasper Carrott, Smith and Jones,
Lenny Henry and the puppets on Spitting Image; so he must have seemed
just the chap to lighten up Screen One, which has hardly been the
most frolicsome of drama series. And for much of last night's play,
Trust Me, he hilariously justified the BBC's faith. But the
frontier between comedy and farce might be high in the Alps, given
the slipping and disoriented stumbling it can cause a writer. For
all the agility of his humour, Sarchet did not always seem sure
whether he was, so to speak, in France or Switzerland, Austria or
The idea was as inspired as the casting. Alfred Molina, he of the
heavy, mournful countenance and quick, sly wit, played Harry Greaves,
a barman who supplemented his wages by hoaxing the tabloids. We
met him in a pub with a credulous journalist, to whom he was confiding
the secrets of Everest: "obscene graffiti, drugs, ice-axe initiation
ceremonies, they'll soon have to close the whole mountain down."
Then it was off to a publisher with a manuscript of his autobiography,
Memoirs of a Hitman.
Here the trouble started for him, as before long it was to do for
the play itself. Instead of accepting his book, the publisher gave
Harry £20,000 to do away with his wife, in Jill Gascoine's
performance a very cool cookie indeed. She reacted with nerveless
disdain to Harry's bungling efforts to frighten her; and, next thing,
her husband was found in a gorge, victim of the professional hitman
she herself had gone out and hired. It was somewhere around this
point that I began to wonder if the late Graham Chapman shouldn't
arrive in his officer's uniform, as he so often did in the Python
era, and give the play a formal warning for silliness.
Suddenly Harry found himself in the company of one self-professed
hitmen (Hywel Bennett), then threatened by another (Roger Lloyd
Pack). The impression given was that assassins, far from lurking
deep in a shadowy subworld, could be hailed like taxis. Meanwhile,
another of Harry's wheezes was causing almost greater chaos. Somehow
he had persuaded his businessman brother (Peter Wingfield)
that he knew about a top-secret deal with the Ministry of Defence,
Project Prometheus; his brother had brought in the firm's security
officer (Jack Shepherd); and Harry had riposted by telling the security
man that his brother's marriage was in trouble. But why on earth
did that impel Shepherd to hoof it to Wingfield's house and claim
to his wife (Carol Starks) he was having a homosexual affair with
her husband? Even farce needs more logic than that.
With Prometheus turning out to be a self-heating soupcan for use
on the battlefield, the play reached a predictably frantic climax.
I laughed and kept laughing, but not as happily as when Sarchet
remembered that good comedy derives from nicely observed character,
not contrived event. When Molina was passionately spinning fantasies
of steering a Portakabin across the Atlantic, or earnestly relaying
tall stories at a party ("that's not a dodgy fanbelt, I said,
it's a black mamba, and it's a good thing it's asleep") well,
then the play was unqualified bliss.
Lorraine's addendum: This reviewer plainly did not watch
this film with anything approaching enough attention. Anybody who
did would know that [Shepherd's] intention was to sleep with Paul's
wife by mentioning Harry's fictitious Centurion's Syndrome [where
supposedly Roman soldiers "shared" each other's wives
Paul's wife misunderstood and thought her husband was having
a homosexual affair]. There was no farce involved but in fact a
sizeable amount of logic.