Matty (Harry Lloyd) tries to contain Richie (Per Mullan) in Channel 4’s The Fear.

THE FEAR written by Richard Cotton, directed by Michael Samuels (Channel 4 2012)

I’d hate to be on the receiving end of one of Peter Mullan’s stares. When he fixes his unflinching gaze on someone you know it’s only a matter of time before he decks them.

He’s one of those actors for whom the red mist of rage seems to come as second nature. He was so convincing as an alcoholic in films like My Name Is Joe and Tyrannosaurus that you just know that he is drawing on personal experience rather than simply method acting.

There’s always a risk that he gets typecast as a drunken Scot which is why I think that it was a mistake in this four-part drama to show him guzzling a bottle of whiskey prior to going on a bender. For this is not the story of a heavy drinker but of a tough guy being brought down by a serious mental illness.

Set in Brighton, it follows Mullan as gangster turned entrepreneur Richie Beckett in his slow descent into madness caused by the early onset of dementia. Confabulation sounds like a joke word but actually describes the serious psychological state whereby sufferers fill in gaps in their memory by fabricated events. Against this backdrop, we see Richie desperately trying to hold things together while embroiled in turf wars with a ruthless Albanian gang of archetype (and stereotypical) bad guys.

For dramatic purposes it would have been better had we seen Mullan losing control solely because of this medical condition. The boozy scenes serve only to distract the viewer from the crippling effects of Alzheimer’s.

Mullan dominates to the point that the other parts seem sketchy and undeveloped. Nevertheless Harry Lloyd is impressive as Matty one of his two sons and it was good to see Richard E Grant as a smarmy doctor.

Despite his violent character, you can’t help but feel sympathy for Mullan /Richie in the same way that you may take pity on a punch drunk boxer who is unaware that he is losing the bout. “I’m here – I’m alive – I’m normal – What the fuck are you?” he rages when his wife suggests he seeks help. Ultimately I ended up feeling that going down fighting like this was better than a slow death in a hospice.