The Charles & Diana Ingram story has been well documented, with doubt over their guilt still lingering today as the pair maintain their innocence.

It goes like this. A middle-class military couple from rural Wiltshire who, having both appeared on the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, got away with cheating their way to the £1 million jackpot via a series of coughs highlighting the right answer.

The story is now the subject of a three-part ITV drama, documenting the run-up to that fateful night in 2001 and the Ingrams subsequent trial.

The series also looks at Millionaire’s humble origins, with a fair chunk of the first episode devoted to how production company Celador and its founder Paul Smith (Mark Bonnar) made a modest quiz show a staggering success, copied the world over. 

While we might think we know the real story, this version works incredibly well to keep you guessing. It offers none too subtle hints that there may be more to it than the press coverage had us all believe.

In the background, a shady group known as The Syndicate has been pulling the strings and rigging the system to get members of their organisation into the hot seats of quiz shows, asking for a cut of the profits in return. 

They briefly touch base with the Ingrams, particularly Diana’s brother Adrian who also appeared on Millionaire, adding a layer of bizarre mystery that has previously been overlooked in the tale.

Sian Clifford and Matthew MacFadyen in Quiz
Sian Clifford and Matthew MacFadyen in Quiz C: ITV

The programme asks us to consider that Major Charles Ingram’s win, in spite of some well-placed coughs and changes in answer, could be genuine?

Matthew Macfadyen, of Spooks and Succession fame, and Fleabag’s Sian Clifford are both absolutely terrific as the scheming couple, with Charles the face of the plan as the fall guy in the hot seat. 

The actors give the previously vilified figures depth and interest, even managing to make them extremely sympathetic in places. 

The big names don’t stop there, with Michael Sheen (Good Omens, The Damned United) donning the pearly whites and blonde wig as Chris Tarrant. 

Sheen nails many of Tarrant’s mannerisms and comedic timing, adding yet another well-known figure to his back catalogue following on from his turns as David Frost, Tony Blair and Brian Clough.  

We get glimpses into the private lives of the Ingrams, exhibiting a normal family who were quiz obsessives, but don’t seem on the outside like criminal masterminds. 

Charles is depicted as a bumbling, self-deprecating but, at heart, nice guy who is pushed onto the show by his quiz obsessed wife as debts mount up around them.

Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant in Quiz
Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant in Quiz C: ITV

Quiz changes direction at several points, offering doses of humour and wit where one might not expect to find them.

Helen McCrory steals the shows in the finale as defence lawyer Sonia Woodley QC, offering plausible alternatives to the Coughgate fiasco.  

While the show is not perfect and is probably a bit cliché particularly in its first act, it is far from mundane and keeps the viewer gripped amidst the early 21st-century nostalgia. 

Director Stephen Frears and writer James Graham have really done a terrific job in bringing the latter’s stage production to the small screen, with no detail spared. 

From Charles’ god awful polo shirt to the set of Millionaire painstakingly constructed from scratch, this feels like a movie squeezed into our TV sets.

Whether or not this will change the public’s opinion on the Ingrams guilt, with some of the treatment they suffered off the back of the scandal quite appalling, it’s a roller-coaster ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously. 

Kudos also has to be given to ITV themselves for sticking their necks out and commissioning the drama, while the scandal must still give the head honcho’s nightmares even to this day.

Graham, however, deserves all the plaudits in turning one of Britain’s most unusual cases of recent years into a smash hit. Like the show itself, whether you pass or play, its a hell of a ride up the ladder.

Verdict: ★★★★