Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: ITV's The Jury

I am a complete sucker for a good courtroom drama. Lunchtimes during the school holidays when I was a little girl would find me avidly watching Crown Court. There was always that moment of drama on a Friday when The Verdict was declared.  I just wish they'd bring it back - it'd surely give Doctors a run for its money. Not, of course, that I watch that. In fact, when I was in the gym today over lunch time, I chose, as usual, to watch the BBC News Channel while I huffed and puffed on treadmill, bike and cross trainer.

If it's a historical courtroom drama, so much the better. I remember Shadow of the Noose way back in the 90s, telling the story of Edward Marshall-Hall, a famous barrister of the day. I was, of course, delighted to see the return of Garrow's Law last weekend, and not just for wigs and breeches. It's probably worth pointing out, though, that I'm so used to the terminology of the English legal system and very unfamiliar with how Scottish courts operate. We don't have manslaughter up here, it's culpable homicide and we also still have a not proven verdict which last attracted major controversy earlier this year when it was used in the trial of the man who assaulted Celtic manager Neil Lennon.

Last week ITV ran a drama called The Jury over five nights.  It portrayed the re-trial of Alan Lane, whose conviction for the murder of three women was taking place amid a backdrop of a parliamentary attempt to remove the right to trial by jury. The interspersed fictional clips of Today programme interviews and news headlines gave a potted summary of the issues - and it's worth remembering that The events focused on the Jury in the trial and was meant to dramatically illustrate why the system was rubbish. In just five hours of drama, developing the character of 12 jurors is well nigh impossible. There's the woman who's fed up of being left at home alone for weeks on end as her husband goes abroad on business. Then there's the Sudanese refugee desperate to go to the US who's befriended by a rich, retired Jury colleague. The friendship that developed between them was very well done. There's the woman who's feeling constantly sick and the one who shouldn't really be there at all. And who is the mysterious woman hanging around the court room?

I was called for jury service a few years ago but had to defer due to childcare issues. Now that I don't have to worry quite so much about that, I would really love for the envelope to drop through my door summoning me into Edinburgh. Knowing my luck, it'll arrive for a time when I'm on holiday, or just before an election, or the like. It's such a responsibility, but one I think I'd be able to do properly. Someone said on Twitter the other night that they wouldn't be able to cope with a trial where someone had been hurt. It would be horrific, but still, justice needs to be done. There is absolutely no point in locking the wrong person up.

I thought the scenes when the jury were deliberating in this were actually pretty good. You knew all that was going on in their lives so you'd wonder how on earth they'd be able to put that all aside and get on with the job.

I cringed at some technical errors, but then I'm a pedant. The visa application process at the US embassy was so unrealistic that it took the series into the realms of fantasy. Apart from that, though, it was well made, with good use of flashbacks to illustrate the detail.

The absolute standout performance for me, and the reason I'd recommend that you sit down with some popcorn and watch this on the ITV Player, is Julie Walters' portrayal of defence barrister Emma Watts. She had a good script to work with, and the prosecuting guy was a bit of a caricature, but she did a brilliant job. She was persuasive and passionate and I could have listened to her all day. I'd like to see more of that character in action.

The climax was quite shocking for all sorts of reasons that I'm not going to give away. Watching this will be five hours well spent, and you can do so on the ITV/STV player here for another few weeks.

1 comment:

Neil Monnery said...

I keep meaning to write my own review of the show. Having done jury duty I must say I thought it was a very poor account of how it works and I have sat on more than one jury. In all honesty the fact the case should have been declared a mistrial by the first ad break of the first episode probably tainted by viewpoint. Also there were several things jurors did that should have made it a mistrial. I thought it could have been very good but they didn't do jury duty justice. It would be interesting to see what others think.


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