Roadkill, a co-production of the BBC and Masterpiece, has finished its Sunday-night run but remains available at a modest cost on Amazon Prime. A political drama, it follows the career of Peter Laurence (played by the versatile Hugh Laurie), a British Conservative minister who, without actually saying so, has his eye on the top prize, 10 Downing Street. Trouble is, he must sail some very rough seas if he is to reach homeport (that is, a new home at number 10)—and that’s, more or less, what the drama is all about.
As with any drama, our view of the “hero” revolves around how we assess his character. Peter is, to say the least, a rather complex figure. Unlike many of his Conservative-Party colleagues—politicos who seem to long for the halcyon days of Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath—he’s a former tradesman, an ex-furniture store owner from Croydon. Philosophically, he’s libertarian-leaning, advocating freedom, the market, and individual responsibility, and very popular in and out of his district.
All good and well, but that’s not quite the man we meet in episode one. Peter is walking out victorious from a lawsuit he lodged against a paper, one of whose reporters claimed the minister had worked with a British-American think tank to undermine the NHS by introducing a degree of privatization (oh, my!). Well, as I said, he wins, but the reporter, a young Irish woman, won’t quit even though the paper promptly fires her after the court loss.
Is Peter really guilty? Charmian Pepper (Sarah Greene), the reporter, heads for Washington, D.C. to dig deeper, and there she finds a tape that confirms what she alleged. This may seem a small matter to us, but for many British for whom the NHS has replaced the Church of England as the preferred place of worship (or, truth be told, the object of worship), Peter’s secret escapades are, well, heresy. She also finds the think tank paid Peter a cool half-million dollars for a speech, which, unless your name is Obama or Clinton, looks mighty fishy. But before she leaves D.C., she is hit by a car a night. Is it murder? Does Peter even know she was there?
In England, Peter awaits word from Prime Minister Dawn Ellison (Helen McCrory) about a vacancy in the cabinet, which he assumes will make him the next Foreign Minister, moving him a step closer to the top. But another problem arises. Duncan Knock (Iain De Caestecker), Peter’s assistant, has gotten word from a black girl in prison that she is Peter’s illegitimate daughter, and Peter goes to meet her.
To make matters worse, his legitimate younger daughter Lily (Millie Brady) is a cocaine-snorting, publicly promiscuous, tabloid-headlining basket-case. In addition, wife Helen (Saskia Reeves) is none too happy with him, and when Lily calls a family meeting with Peter, Helen, and elder sister Susan (Ophelia Lovibond), a chain-smoking Greenpeacenik, in attendance, all Hell breaks loose. And if things aren’t bad enough, Peter finds he’s not getting the plum office he expected, but will become, irony of ironies, Minister of Justice, which includes oversight of prisons. Homeport this is not: the sharks are circling.
The funny thing is, Peter becomes more likable with each passing episode, which, believe me, is quite a feat. The PM dislikes him, the family is up in arms, his illegitimate daughter is implicated in a prison riot, and the tape of his dealings with the think tank has landed in the hands of his barrister who in her heart of hearts thinks he was guilty. And if that isn’t bad enough, he has a mistress who has had enough. Likable is usually made from a different cloth, but perception cannot be denied. Yet what fate awaits him? My lips are sealed—at least until the Freedom of Information Act kicks in. And who’s to say? There may be a second season.