DVD Review: Quiz
Quiz is based on the true story of the biggest game show scandal since Twenty-One in the 1950’s. Many Americans are unaware that Who Wants to be A Millionaire? was originally a British series, which was imported to the United States, where pounds were converted into dollars. Quiz begins with the network, ITV, developing the game show with no idea of how swiftly it will turn into an international phenomenon.
What was supposed to be a light entertainment soon becomes an obsession for many people, as untold numbers of fans start devoting an amazing amount of energy and ingenuity to getting in the hot seat. Army Major Charles Ingram (Matthew McFadyen) finds trivia quizzes rather pointless, but his wife Diana (Sian Clifford) and brother-in-law Adrian (Trystan Gravelle) soon make it their life’s mission to play for a million pounds. Both get on the show, but neither of them reach the pinnacle they so desperately desire. Charles is drafted to go on the show, and despite his reluctance, he finds himself climbing up the ladder over the course of two nights to everybody’s amazement. With a head-scratching strategy, he answers fifteen questions and wins the million.
Unfortunately for the Ingrams, they never get the chance to enjoy their windfall. Within hours, the network starts to challenge the victory, claiming that Ingram cheated. They come up with a number of different ways that the fraud could have been committed, ranging from vibrating cell phones strapped to his extremities to a confederate in the audience coughing at opportune moments. This leads to a media circus and a trial where the Ingrams and their alleged partner, Tecwen Whittock (Michael Jibson) become reviled and derided figures where everybody assumes their guilt, despite the fact that the Ingrams and Whittock never met. It’s up to their defense barrister, Sonia Woodley, QC (a terrific Helen McCrory) to point out that the evidence is not nearly as compelling as everybody believes.
Arguably, the MVP of the series is Michael Sheen, whose sparkling performance as the game show host Chris Tarrant, who manages to provide a ray of good humor in every scene in which he appears.
While this story and its aftermath are common knowledge in the UK, Americans are largely unaware of it, due to the fact that it happened right around 9/11 and got lost in the resulting news cycle. Even if one knows the entire narrative, Quiz is likely to reveal aspects of the story that went largely overlooked by the anti-Ingram press. Quizdoes a remarkable job of refusing to take a side in the case, presenting a damning case against the Ingrams while simultaneously providing a powerful defense of the couple as well.
Over the course of three episodes, viewers see the growing subculture of people who have developed vast stores of trivia knowledge in order to help themselves and others profit from the show, illustrating how Who Wants to be a Millionaire? became a symbol of more than just harmless fun. For untold numbers of people, it became an opportunity to realize their dreams. The extremes to how such enthusiasm gripped large swaths of the community illustrate how any seemingly innocent pleasure can take a dark turn, but what’s more disturbing is how quickly the populace can condemn people after a public accusation.
The Ingrams bore the brunt of an incredible media circus. Was it deserved, or did a network desperate for ratings and relevance allow an innocent couple to be railroaded? Based on the story presented in Quiz, there’s no way to know for certain whether the Ingrams did it or not. All the viewer can know for sure from Quiz is that the series is terrifically entertaining, and stands as a serious warning against the prospect of trial by media circus.