I was only 7 years old in 2001 but due to its incredibly long run the original Chris Tarrant Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was one of the first shows I remember watching regularly (prior to them switching up the format when it was on its last legs) every Saturday night. It’s a brilliantly timeless formats and from what I’ve seen of the Jeremy Clarkson Revival (the initial run of special anniversary episodes) the producers have mostly been able to preserve the format effectively. Any discussion of the history of the show immediately brings up the Charles Ingram fraud case in which he and his wife plus other collaborators through a series of events were convicted of cheating on the nation’s most popular game show. It’s a fascinating story ripe for a dramatization. Emmy-winning writer James Graham already adapted the story into an award-winning play (that I hope to see should a touring production come anywhere near me.) Now he adapts that play for the small screen with Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford as the Ingrams and Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant. How did the adaptation work out?
Despite some creaky elements this drama was very solid with some superb performances. The first episode opens somewhat stiffly with an extended prologue on the origin of the show as well as showcasing how the Ingrams and Adrian Pollock became obsessive fans. It shines when it showcases just how much of a phenomenon the original run of Millionaire was in its prime. Macfadyen and Clifford are both excellent in the central roles but it’s Michael Sheen’s uncanny Chris Tarrant impression that will no doubt be given a massive awards push. There’s a moment during the dramatization of the game itself where does a classic Tarrant ” BUT WE DON’T WANT TO GIVE YOU THAT ” and it’s glorious.
The second episode focuses on a very effective recreation of the run itself in large part thanks to some excellent set design that recreates the studio and conditions of the show itself. There’s not much deviation from anything expected in the dramatization but a story as dramatically effective as this isn’t in need of any additional bells and whistles.
The finale is mostly a very standard courtroom drama, but Graham is very aware of this is a writer and inserts a very effective meta joke at the start of the episode. Helen McCrory gets extend screen time as the Ingrams defence lawyer. She delivers the kind of performance that gives off the impression of being able to could convince anyone of anything regardless of the circumstances. It capped off a miniseries that despite a couple of problems and creaky elements had been very solid overall.
Quiz is a very effective dramatization of a fascinating story. There isn’t that much in the dramatization that gives an incentive to watch this over a documentary on the case (especially the excellent Martin Bashir one that is referenced and available for free on YouTube.) that said the strength of the performances and the commitment to recreating the events make this a very worthwhile watch if you are interested in the case or want to learn more about it.