As promised, here is the first of my reviews ofTV series set in the seventies. Trust was screened in the US on FX in the spring and aired on BBC 2 in the UK late last year so I suppose this is a very late review of it. But the series is available as a boxset here.
The drama centres on John Paul Getty III, known in the film as Paul, who’s kidnapping in 1973 made headlines around the world. Paul is a happy-go-lucky teenager, but also an heir to the large Getty fortune. His grandfather, the first John Paul Getty is often quoted as being the richest man in the world at that time.
Trust frames the kidnapping as a plot orchestrated by Paul to extort money from his grandfather to pay back debts to drug dealers. However, the scheme unravels and Paul finds himself passed around a succession of Italian mobsters. The stakes climb higher and higher with every twist and turn of the drama, with the kidnappers becoming ever more desperate to extort a ransom from the Getty family. Paul’s life really does hang in the balance.
There are ten episodes recounting the story, which is plenty of time to become familiar with all the members of the large Getty family and their dysfunctional relationships with each other. The patriarch of the family is played by Donald Sutherland, who in my opinion plays the miserly grandfather, John Paul Getty superbly. Grandfather Getty is a truly miserable individual who conspicuously goes out of his way to belittle and humiliate his children. I can’t think of a greater example of the tenet, “money won’t buy you happiness”. It’s worth taking a look at this BBC documentary about John Paul Getty, where he is interviewed by Alan Whicker, to realise the way he is portrayed in the drama is no exaggeration.
The story is played out in Italy, America and the UK. In the series Audley End House in Essex stands in for grandfather Getty’s country residence, Sutton Place. Incidentally, as a child in the seventies we used to visit Audley End regularly (it’s owned by English Heritage and is open to the public). We used to play hide and seek around the grounds.
We also get to know the kidnappers too. The kidnappers are ‘ndranghetisti, members of an organized crime group based in Calabria. There’s the psychopathic Primo and the gentle Angelo, who acts as translator. It all feels authentic; the scenes between the Italians are spoken in Italian, or rather an Italian dialect. The unlikely friendship between Paul and Angelo is rather touching.
The first three episodes are directed by Danny Boyle. To be honest, I found these early episodes the least satisfying and even confusing. Episode 2 (“Lone Star”) employed seventies-style split screening to ridiculous effect and in Episode 3 (“La Dolce Vita”) the time frame jumps around alarmingly . The series settles down though after this when a more conventional narrative is used.
I did look out for the fashions of the era, but these aren’t really a highlight in this series. Paul, spends much of the series, naturally, in the same clothes he was kidnapped in. Even John Paul Getty’s many girlfriends don’t tend to sport anything particularly note-worthy.
Gail Getty, played by Hilary Swank wins the prize with a succession of fantastic big-collared shirts.
This particular shirt is my favourite with its geometric pattern in shades of brown.
All in all, this is a fun drama, which doesn’t skimp on examining the motivations of all the main protagonists.