Hugh Laurie is back on our screens in David Hare’s latest political thriller, Roadkill, which critics have given a mostly warm reception.
The four-parter, directed by Line of Duty’s Michael Keillor, stars Laurie as a controversial Conservative minister.
The cast also includes Us actors Saskia Reeves and Iain De Caestecker alongside Peaky Blinders star Helen McCrory.
Critics lauded the performances in the BBC drama but had some caveats, such as the “dodgy dialogue”.
Several newspaper critics bestowed four stars out of five on the first episode, which sees Laurie’s character Peter Laurence battling to stop both his public and private life falling apart against a backdrop of political plotting and intrigue.
The Telegraph’s Anita Singh was one of those, describing Laurie as “great, just as he was in The Night Manager. It’s a charismatic performance and he gets under the skin of Laurence”.
She added: “Hare has crafted an intriguing plot and succeeds in making us want to find out where Laurence goes next. But he is a playwright and with the exception of Laurie, who makes the dialogue sing, the characters speak in ways better suited to the stage than an approximation of real life.
“Dodgy dialogue and ropy exposition can be forgiven when the plot is so enticing and Hugh Laurie, as a slippery MP, is so charismatic.”
The Daily Mail’s Christopher Stevens largely enjoyed the first episode, also giving it four stars and lavishing praise on both the performances of the leads and Hare’s writing.
“With any actor less likeable than Hugh, this story would be unbearably cynical,” he wrote
“Sir David expertly shows us the man’s charming façade as well as his cold, hard core.”
He added: “Helen McCrory is at her best playing PM Dawn Ellison as part Margaret Thatcher, part Peaky Blinder.”
The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan also thought the drama worthy of four stars, noting the thriller’s universal appeal at a time of real-life political turmoil amidst a global pandemic with Brexit looming.
“It is good to be reminded of the enduring truths – that power corrupts, that charisma tells us nothing of a man (or woman), that political ambition is rarely purely a craving to serve the public. In a good light, on a good day, it makes their multiple manifestations look more manageable,” she wrote.
Writing in the Independent, Ed Cumming was slightly less enamoured, giving Roadkill three stars, feeling it was a little dated.
“Roadkill’s pedigree is obvious. It’s competently put together and the plot draws you in,” he wrote.
“For all its post-Brexit aspirations, though, this feels like a drama from an earlier time, with a traditional left-wing heart. However outlandish the fictional scheming on display, the real world is crazier, and we’ve seen this kind of conspiracy too many times before.”
Carol Midgley of The Times also gave the drama three stars, again singling out Laurie and McCrory for praise.
“It is too mannered and expositional to be realistic (in this way it reminded me of Bodyguard), but it is welcome immersive escapism and not nearly as earnest and improbable as Hare’s last big TV offering, Collateral, which was like being subjected to weekly political sermons via water cannon.”
She added: “This was mostly down to the excellent Hugh Laurie as ‘man of the people Tory’ Peter Laurence, especially when he was in scenes with the equally splendid Helen McCrory playing a ball-busting prime minister with a Margaret Thatcher hairdo but far better clothes.”
Midgley also revealed that she had seen the whole series and felt the first episode was “the weakest”.
Radio Times critic Eleanor Bley Griffiths was probably the least impressed, describing episode one as “a bit of a disappointment”, although she still gave it a three-star review.
Chiming with Midgley’s point that the drama is unrealistic at times, Griffiths wrote that “certain characters behave in wildly implausible ways”, referring to a plotline featuring a journalist played by Sarah Greene.
“Why, for example, would Charmian Pepper be utterly flabbergasted that her editor would fire her after she changed her story in court and lost her newspaper £1.5 million?” she asks.
“But Roadkill is saved, to some extent, by the calibre of the actors involved. Hugh Laurie is predictably excellent. Then there’s a prime ministerial Helen McCrory, who gives us a glimpse of what it would be like if Peaky Blinders’ Aunt Pol made it to Number Ten.”