Starring: James Frain, Hugh Bonneville, Stephen Rea
Director: Howard Davies
James Frain has had a solid career playing sympathetic villains in the likes of The Tudors, but he had a rare opportunity to take on a leading role in this enjoyable BBC three-parter, adapted by William Boyd from his own novel. Frain plays Lorimer Black, a sleep-deprived loss adjuster with identity issues (he’s from a family of Transnistrian gypsies but likes to give the impression he’s a public school toff) who uncovers financial skullduggery in the Square Mile when he investigates a dodgy hotel fire.
It’s a series that brings together intriguing elements such as medieval armour, world music and sleep clinics in a story that’s witty and light on its feet. Just occasionally its determination to give everything a quirky twist feels overdone, as in the scenes with Hogg (Stephen Rea), Lorimer’s cryptically aphoristic boss, and there’s a stiltedly written romantic thread between Lorimer and an elusive actress (Catherine McCormack). Otherwise, though, Armadillo is a fresh, engagingly offbeat comedy with some vivid characters and deft twists. Visually, it hasn’t dated at all in the 15 years since it was made, and the casting (James Fox as the ultra-smooth chairman of a big insurance firm, Neil Pearson as an angry building contractor) is top-notch.
Showing a softer, more soulful side than usual, James Frain is so effective it’s surprising that this didn’t mark a permanent step-up to leading man status for the actor. That said, the show is well and truly stolen by a young Hugh Bonneville in an hilarious turn as a lecherous, gluttonous upper class oaf who ends up sleeping on Lorimer’s couch when his personal life messily implodes. Almost as funny is Ron Cook as a diminutive East End geezer who encourages Lorimer to take an Old Testament approach to his shadowy foes: “An eye for an eye, a motor for a motor.” The DVD transfer is crisp and detailed. 8/10