As with many a squandered legacy, it isn’t clear if Trust has been a victim of misfortune, or poor planning. It aired on FX earlier in the year, but its BBC debut comes hot on the heels of Succession (Sky Atlantic), another shiny 10-part drama about an ageing patriarch grappling with his heirs and his own mortality. Jesse Armstrong’s dynasty, led by the Rupert Murdoch-esque media mogul Logan Roy, are the most compelling TV family of the year, each of them monstrous but frail in their own way. Talk about tough acts to follow.
Where Succession is fictitious and contemporary, Trust, or at least its skeleton, is factual. The same history was explored by Ridley Scott’s film, All the Money in the World, last year. It is 1973 and John Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland) is playing the oil baron while it’s going out of style, living in Tudor splendour against a backdrop of union protests and fuel shortages. When he is not being heroically stingy he has serums injected into his penis, the better to satisfy the harem of women he keeps on call.
Over in Hollywood, his son and heir, George (Filippo Valle), stabs himself to death with a barbecue fork in a garage, the end of a fabulous long tracking shot through a pool party. It’s pure cinematic showboating, like a Hieronymus Bosch with a Pink Floyd soundtrack, to announce the episode’s ambition and that of its director, Danny Boyle.
John Paul Jr (Michael Esper) sees George’s funeral as a chance to assert his claims to the kingdom, but is upstaged by his own teenage son, John Paul III (Harris Dickinson), who bursts in unannounced. The women at once see the charms of the boy, who arrives bearing bellbottoms, a Led Zeppelin lid and a physique accentuated rather than bloated by cocaine. He’s in trouble in Italy and needs the cash. He wins granddad over by knowing what the Elgin marbles are, which gives you a sense of the kind of intellectual material the old man has to work with.
Like the storied children it depicts, Trust ought to have it all. The story, scenery and stars are all unarguable. The cast in particular, which includes an excellent Brendan Fraser and Hilary Swank, would have looked ridiculous on the small screen 10 years ago. But in its vaulting ambition the series feels cold, even slightly empty. It prioritises the grand and sensational at the expense of nuance and detail. You might be able to get away with it in a blockbuster movie, but not over 10 hours on TV. It’s too long not to care about the characters. The rich and famous command our attention more easily but they must work twice as hard for our affection. Pedigree, like budget, is a curse as well as a blessing.