“What’s to be my legacy, hmm? The Getty dynasty?” So asks one of the Getty family, as director Danny Boyle (Sunshine) and writer Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) prepare to tell us their account of the John Paul Getty III kidnapping. It’s an event that comes to our screens with no small amount of familiarity, thanks to Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, which saw Christopher Plummer notably step into the role of John Paul Getty Sr., the oil tycoon and art collector who made millions, billions, in his lifetime – yet refused to cough up the cash for his grandson, when he went missing in 1973.
What is there to add to the our understanding of this wealthy, apparently soulless patriarch? With Danny Boyle at the helm, it’s no surprise that the immediate answer is style: his camera swiftly whisks us through this world of wealth that’s about to be lopsided by Getty’s disappearance. It’s also oddly apt, as what emerges is a depiction of a manmade kingdom where appearances and surfaces are worth more than what’s underneath.
If that makes for a relatively cold viewing experience – All the Money in the World’s heart came from a focus on PJG III’s mother, Gail – the cast do their best to make sure that isn’t always the case. The ensemble are clearly relishing every second they get to sink their teeth into these rich, obnoxious people, from Donald Sutherland as the calculated Getty Senior to Hilary Swank as his daughter, and concerned mother to a stolen son. They all benefit from added screentime, and an episode count that gives them room to develop and explore their roles, but it’s telling that the best of the bunch is Brendan Fraser, who plays the family’s fixer, Fletcher Chace. He saunters through scenes with fourth-wall-breaking dialogue, swaggering confidence and a cowboy hat, making pronouncements on those around him with a scathing, ironic wit. He gets the chance to play narrator in Episode 2, the standout of the whole series, and you can’t help but imagine what the whole programme would be like, if it were presented explicitly through his perspective – an approach that would better suit the show’s cool detachment and dark humour.
Instead, we’re also whisked through Italy by the side of young John Paul (Harris Dickinson), as he’s moved around by his kidnappers. Flashbacks and escape attempts give Dickinson some meat to chew on, and after his impressive lead turn in Beach Rats, he once again delivers a performance that deserves to make him a star. His interactions with Sutherland’s self-centred magnate, in particular, have real spark to them, as Dickinson’s natural charisma brings a smile to Getty Sr.’s hauntingly weathered face and draws out something resembling humanity in the old man – even though he promptly backs away from such purportedly weak feelings when the ransom demand comes.
Anna Chancellor (Ordeal By Innocence) is fantastic as Penelope Kitson, one of Getty Sr.’s many live-in female companions, because she refuses to stay put in that dismissive role, standing up and calling Getty Sr. out on his treatment of women. Michael Esper, too, finds nuance and tragedy in the part of young John Paul’s father, who is useless to everyone as he sinks into drugs, fuelled by depression about his failure to live up to his demanding father’s expectations of an heir.
The result nudges towards an exploration of these complex family dynamics, and of the way that money – and power – corrupts and corrodes human relationships. Lack of communication rears its head time and time again in the spiky dialogue and barbed, frayed bonds, especially when we see Getty Sr. educating the very young John Paul, as his parents look on, aghast. But that wraps up with an unsubtle nod to King Midas near the end, which doesn’t really take us anywhere new or surprising – and doesn’t quite give Getty Sr. the moment of realisation the series needs to bring a satisfying narrative arc to historical events.
Yet there’s something more intriguing lying inside Trust, as it returns to the idea of legacy and dynasty – some of the last moments we see of Getty Sr. are his opening of the extravagant J. Paul Getty Museum, named (naturally) after himself. Slammed by critics, despite its opulence and his obsession with building a replica of Herculaneum’s Villa dei Papiri, it can’t even realise Getty’s dream of buying up the Elgin Marbles for his own edification. His frustration at that shortcoming is wonderfully contrasted with Silas Carson’s scene-stealing butler, Bullimore, who finds a trace of happiness and human connection unlike many of those in Getty Sr.’s shadow.
Because yes, Getty’s ambitions don’t pay off in the way he wanted – and he doesn’t understand the meaningful things in life needed to build a proper family of loyalty (the trust in the title, of course, refers to the Getty fortune). But what Trust’s final flourish presents us with is the alternate tale of events. Not the more obvious familial fallout, but the unforeseen consequences that spread through the wider world – the ripples that spread to Italy’s criminal underbelly via Primo (the enjoyably villainous Luca Marinelli), and led to drugs sweeping into Europe, transforming American politics, establishing businesses and assembling empires, and leaving a long-term thorn in the side of the global economy. As dissected by Chace, it’s a thrilling, surprising dismantling of the Getty dynasty through the lens of hindsight – you just wish that lens was used all the way through. Nonetheless, this occasionally uneven thriller is an entertaining, lavishly presented piece of TV, and provides the underrated and underserved Brendan Fraser with a long-awaited platform to begin a Matthew McConaughey-like career resurgence. If this is the start of the Brenaissance, it’s a legacy of which Trust can be proud.