Any Human Heart is not, as you’d be forgiven for assuming, a teary documentary about heart transplants. It’s an adaptation of William Boyd’s 2002 novel, charting the accidentally extraordinary life of Logan Mountstuart (Sunday, 9pm on Channel 4). Any fans of the author concerned that a TV adaptation will iron out Boyd’s quirky sparkle will be happy to hear that he also wrote the script. It transfers to the screen beautifully and Boyd has produced a subtle, funny reworking.
We meet Mountstuart as a sick old boy sorting through his affairs and flashing back, chronologically, to the major events in his life. Rather than plastering a young man with latex wrinkles and painting on liver spots, three actors take on the role.
Jim Broadbent, who does weathered sad face better than anyone in the business, is old man Mountstuart while Matthew Macfadyen takes care of his middle years. We meet the oldest version first but quickly flick back to Mountstuart in his early twenties (played by Sam Claflin) as an Oxford undergraduate with one thing on his mind: losing his virginity before his two best friends beat him to it. The lads are set on despoiling Tess (Holliday Grainger), a working class girl with a plump mouth and a permanent sex glow.
The only other thing on Mountstuart’s mind is becoming a great writer, ignoring his father’s dying wish for him to take over the family corned beef business. After graduating, we watch him bash off a racy first novel and get distracted by the rewards. Various women flow in and out of his world and, more and more, our rakish but good-natured lead lets life happen to him rather than taking control. Somehow, this lack of drive makes it impossible to get angry with Mountstuart, even when he’s despicably indifferent to the chaos he’s created.
The less he tries to get on in life, the more implausible things happen. Mountstuart meets, and eventually befriends, Ernest Hemingway and also has repeated dealings with a certain disgraced monarch and his icy American mistress, Wallis Simpson (played by a spiky featured Gillian Anderson). Ian Fleming also pops up (though more in episode two).
From the beginning, you’ll sense impending disaster and wince as our hero battles the fall out from his poor decisions. But it’s impossible to look away.