Summer TV. Usually, it’s nothing more than an assortment of sport, Big Brother, tacky documentaries from the school of ‘my baby weighs more than a baby elephant’ and endless repeats. However, I’m pleased to say that the BBC is breaking the mould with its five-part thriller Criminal Justice. To be screened daily over five nights starting from Monday June 30, this compelling drama offers a thought-provoking insight into the criminal justice system.
Actor Ben Whishaw plays happy-go-lucky youngster Ben Coulter who’s just yer average bloke, if a little sensitive. After ‘borrowing’ his dad’s black taxi cab, his life is changed forever following a wild encounter with a woman he picks up. Some drink, drugs and sex later, he wakes up to find her stabbed to death. Panicked, Ben flees. However, fate conspires against him and a traffic accident results in capture. Charged with murder, he can’t remember what happened the night before and Ben’s world descends into a labyrinth of foreign places: a police station, a prison, a courtroom. Naive and petrified, he has to learn to survive alongside disturbed cellmates, dodgy screws and hardcore career criminals of the likes of Hooch (Pete Postlethwaite) and Freddie Graham (David Harewood).
Fans of American shows Law & Order and Murder One will be familiar with the dramatic premise employed here as Criminal Justice follows Ben’s story from the crime through to the police investigation, court case and verdict. It’s not perfect – the pace is uneven at times (especially at the beginning and in the middle) but the brilliant cast make up for that. With every instalment, the tension racks up to almost unbearable levels and Ben’s memory blank proves a highly effective suspense-driver. Did he really do it? Is he truly guilty? Are we sympathising with a man capable of murder? By the time the verdict is in, you’ll have no nails left.
Criminal Justice is written by former barrister Peter Moffat who also gave us the brilliant Cambridge Spies and Kavanagh QC. A rollercoaster ride through the Criminal Justice system, it’s well worth investing your time and emotions over its five-day run. Why? Yes, it’s well written and acted – that goes without saying. But crucially, the unsettling lesson to learn is that in the Criminal Justice system, the truth is optional. Moreover, it can be a luxurious liability. What really counts is playing the game, and the system, in order to get the best result possible. Suspects do it to win their freedom; barristers do it to win their case and police officers do it to meet their targets. After watching this intriguing drama, you may no longer be surprised at why, for example, figures for rape convictions remain disgracefully low.
Today I am mostly lovin’ – House. Yes it is occasionally silly and yes it does stretch credulity at times, but I can’t get enough of it (and Hugh Laurie).
Today I am mostly hatin’ – Has anyone told Toyota that there’s a credit crunch on? Where are they getting the money to advertise that bloomin’ advert using The Feeling’s Join With Us every five minutes? ‘Ring, ring, beep, beep’? I’ll give you ‘wring, wring’ in a minute Toyota. Grrrrr!
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