A mother tries to stop an ex from wreaking havoc in new BBC drama

Who’s conning who?: A mother tries to stop the ex who fleeced her from wreaking havoc on another woman’s life in a new BBC drama. But all is not as it seems

  • The Following Events Are Based On A Pack Of Lies was filmed in Oxfordshire 
  • READ MORE: BBC viewers slam new crime thriller Wolf as ‘appalling crud’ 

From Charles Ponzi and his eponymous pyramid schemes to Frank Abagnale, whose audacious scams were immortalised in the Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can, smooth-talking conmen have long been the subject of public fascination. 

Now new BBC1 drama The Following Events Are Based On A Pack Of Lies, with Hollywood stars Romola Garai and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, tells the tale of a similar chancer and the devastation he leaves in his wake. 

But as the title of the drama suggests, nothing is exactly as it seems.

When we first meet Alice Newman (Pulling’s Rebekah Staton) she appears to be living a settled life. 

Happily ensconced in Oxford with her young son and magician boyfriend Benjy (Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh comedy act), she works as a PA to Romola Garai’s fashion designer Juno Fish, while harbouring dreams of becoming a designer herself. 

Until, that is, a chance sighting of her former husband knocks her off course.

New BBC1 drama The Following Events Are Based On A Pack Of Lies stars Hollywood stars Romola Garai and Marianne Jean-Baptiste

Alice believed Robbie Graham (Sex Education’s Alistair Petrie), a property developer from Stoke, to be her ‘knight in shining armour’ right up to the point he fleeced her and her family out of their savings and fled – popping out for a chow mein, never to return. 

Now, 15 years later, he’s back, but this time as Dr Rob Chance – a charming, award-winning ‘ecopreneur’ and director of the ‘world-famous’ Saattut climate academy in Greenland.

Soon Alice discovers he has lined up his latest victim, wealthy fantasy writer Cheryl Harker (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Oscar-nominated for the film Secrets & Lies), who has recently lost her husband to dementia. 

Alice intends to warn Cheryl about Rob’s past, but fearing she won’t be believed she pretends to be her successful boss Juno instead. 

As the five-part series unfolds, Alice attempts to stop her ex from wreaking havoc on another woman’s life, but will she succeed… and who exactly is being tricked?

Created by sisters Penelope and Ginny Skinner, the series offers a novel take on the traditional conman caper. 

‘We love those shows where you have a con artist who’s doing crazy, exciting things,’ says Ginny. ‘But for our story we wanted the hero to be the person the con was happening to.’

Adds her sister, ‘It happened to Alice many years ago, but she’s still living with the consequences and we wanted to recognise the damage these things do to the victims and put their perspective front and centre. 

‘But the problem is that these conmen are so fascinating you can easily be drawn into their lies.’

That’s certainly true of Rob, who quickly inveigles himself into Cheryl’s world – becoming her lover, moving into her sumptuous home and slowly distancing her from those she loves. 

‘He’s highly emotionally intelligent because that’s how he infiltrates people’s lives, by playing on emotion,’ says Alistair Petrie. ‘And Cheryl is the perfect target – a woman who’s widowed and lost. 

He’s a dangerous individual, brimming with confidence, ready to seduce. And then this brilliant spanner in the works appears in the form of Alice.’

Rebekah Staton says her character ‘is living a half-life. She can’t marry Benjy because she can’t tell him her feelings about marriage, and she can’t depend on her dad because she’s protected him from a lot of what happened.’ 

And though her motives to unmask Rob might be honourable, not only does she bend the rules in order to catch him, she also lies about her identity to Cheryl, thereby adopting the traits of the man she’s determined to expose.

‘One of the things we discovered in our research is that to encounter a con artist is to be compromised,’ says Ginny. 

‘That no matter how high your ideals or how good a person you are, as soon as you’re in their sphere, part of you will be morally compromised and you have to make decisions you don’t want to make.’

For real-life conman inspiration, the Skinners looked predominantly to Bernie Madoff – the American financier who defrauded investors out of billions of dollars in the largest Ponzi scheme in history. 

‘What was really fascinating about him is that we think people just lost money,’ says Ginny. 

‘But then you find out about the lives he destroyed. It was very applicable to this show.’

There are also echoes of the tragic tale of Helen Bailey, the children’s author who was charmed and subsequently murdered by her partner Ian Stewart in Hertfordshire. 

She, like Cheryl, was a wealthy author mourning the loss of her husband when Stewart came along. 

Alice discovers he has lined up his latest victim, wealthy fantasy writer Cheryl Harker (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who has recently lost her husband to dementia

‘We didn’t find out about her till we started writing,’ says Ginny, ‘but there’s a sadness about that story that helped us a lot.’

Like countless hustlers before him, Rob knows just how to ensnare and gaslight his prey. ‘In the beginning there’s the selection of the victim and their particular vulnerability,’ says Penelope. 

‘Then the love bombing, where they’ll offer you something, whether romance or a financial opportunity, that feels like it would solve all your problems.’

Soon the victim is isolated from everyone they trust and by the time they realise they’re no longer in control there is the fear, says Ginny, that if they pull out they would lose more than if they stay in. 

Added to that is the disbelief from others that anyone could ever fall for the con. 

‘But that’s the “artist” part of the con artist,’ explains Alistair. ‘Because it’s all based on emotion. Nobody wants to admit they’ve been fooled.’

While the show has its dark moments, especially midway through during a shocking exchange between Rob and Alice (‘there’s no denying how dangerous he is after that,’ says Rebekah), there’s also plenty of humour. 

Alice flits about town investigating Rob while wearing a somewhat conspicuous neon pink cape. 

And as her father trundles along on his mobility scooter collecting evidence of Rob’s misconduct for his daughter, he becomes an unlikely and increasingly spry sidekick.

Despite being set in modern-day Oxford, the series has a distinct 1980s feel courtesy of the pulsating soundtrack, including Madonna and Talk Talk, and veiled references to that ultimate 80s movie Fatal Attraction. 

‘Part of Alice’s internal crisis is that she’ll be perceived as a crazy bunny boiler if she tells the truth about Rob, and that film was a symbol of that,’ says Penelope. 

‘The use of 80s music is a way of showing how her past is coming back,’ adds her sister.

It’s a knotty tale with a complicated heroine, and the heightened sights and sounds of the show add to the viewer’s unease. 

‘Alice’s partner Benjy is a magician who tells you he’s playing a trick on you, while Cheryl creates alternative worlds that you know you’re spending time in,’ explains Penelope. 

‘Rob does both of these things without telling you and that’s very damaging. We all want to experience magic, be transported, fall in love, but it’s our goodness and empathy that’s being exploited by the likes of Rob.’

Making the show caused everyone involved to re-examine their past for occasions when they’d been unwittingly conned. ‘I think all of us at some point have been manipulated in some shape,’ says Alistair. 

And for those who still believe they could never fall prey to such manipulation, the series itself performs its own trickery. 

‘It’s very seductive,’ says Alistair. ‘There’s a warmth and humour to it that brings you in. We relax the audience… and then we turn the screw.’

  • The Following Events Are Based On A Pack Of Lies starts Tuesday at 9pm on BBC1, all episodes on BBC iPlayer.

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