Hulu’s new drama series, “National Treasure,” aims a topical laser at celebrities accused of sex crimes.
If you think of Bill Cosby, the posthumous sex abuse scandal involving British TV star Jimmy Savile and his English contemporaries — publicist Max Clifford and entertainer Rolf Harris (both serving time for pedophilia) — you’ll have an idea of the disturbing narrative road down which this absorbing four-part series travels. [It’s based on Operation Yewtree, a British police investigation into sexual abuse allegations, mostly involving young children, triggered by the allegations against Savile.]
Veteran actor Robbie Coltrane (Rubeus Hagrid in eight “Harry Potter” movies) stars as Paul Finchley, half of the beloved British comedy team of Finchley and Jenkins, who’s accused of raping a young woman on a movie set and sexually assaulting the family’s 15-year-old babysitter (mostly in his car). Both crimes were allegedly committed decades earlier, when Finchley and his on-screen partner, Karl Jenkins (Tim McInnerney), were starring in a popular sitcom.
“There is a huge amount of ambiguity in these cases — it’s a ‘She said/He said’ scenario,” says the Scottish-born Coltrane, 67, speaking exclusively to The Post. “Nobody rapes someone in front of eight people. It’s the job of the prosecutors to make it personal for the victim — and the job of the defense to demolish the accuser’s case.”
When we first meet Finchley, he’s close to 70 years old, wheezy and thick around the middle (he walks with a cane). Now hosting a daytime game show, he loudly proclaims his innocence while his long-suffering wife, Mary (Julie Walters) — who’s indulged Finchley’s decades-long philandering — wills herself to believe he’s been unjustly accused. Their drug-addict daughter Dee (Andrea Riseborough), who lives in a halfway house, isn’t so sure — even though she’s enjoyed an extremely close relationship with her father that borders on the creepy.
Finchley is eventually charged with sex crimes and stands trial, while his back story — encompassing his wife, daughter and the women he’s accused of attacking — is told in flashbacks shaded with ambiguity by series writer Jack Thorne.
“It’s all about the power of fame,” Coltrane says. “In Britain, a lot of these women who were attacked, they just thought, ‘No one will believe me. I’m just a wee girl who works in a candy store or a hamburger joint.’ But almost all sexual abuse is about power.
“And now they’re digging [allegations of sexual abuse] out of the army, out of Westminster … it’s absolutely terrifying. It’s quite startling. And then there’s Bill Cosby. God save us. But what can you do? What you can do is to make a good TV show — and I think we got it right.
“He tried to be a good father and a good husband and I guess he failed,” he says of Finchley. “It’s as simple as that. The weird thing is that [Mary] accepted his cheating. If I started cheating on my wife I’d be dead meat.”
Coltrane, whose TV and movie career dates back to 1979, says he never worked with Savile or Harris. “And I’m jolly glad I didn’t,” he says. “They were both ‘national treasures’ who we used to sit and watch on TV every Saturday night.
“I always thought Savile was a dodgy bloke,” he says. “But they were not thought of as dodgy guys, just harmless entertainers who turned up on television.”
“National Treasure” Available Wednesday on Hulu
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