Sunday, 6 July 2008

CRIMINAL JUSTICE: A DRAMA FOR OUR TIMES

With just 4 television channels to choose from, it's inevitable that choice is severely restricted when compared to the multi-channel viewing capacity offered to more fortunate areas of the country. So, it made for a refreshing change to find BBC1 screening a five part drama containing extremely well drawn characters and a plot which made one think deeply about the judicial system and our society today.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE follows the trial(s) and tribulations of Ben Coulter (Ben Wishaw); a young man who takes his father's taxi cab without consent after his own vehicle breaks down. When a teenage girl hops into the cab, Ben strikes up a conversation and agrees to drive her to a seaside town. After consuming pills and booze, Ben and his new companion have consensual sex before he crashes out downstairs as the drink and drugs take a hold. When Ben awakes, he goes up to the bedroom and finds the girl lying on the bed, stabbed to death. After a vain attempt to clean up bloodstains on the wall, Ben flees the scene, concealing what looks to be the murder weapon and is apprehended after crashing his car. Unable to account for the missing hours between consciousness and sleep, Ben is remanded in custody awaiting trial for murder.

Although CRIMINAL JUSTICE contains its fair share of cliched characters - a world-weary lawyer needing a big result, an all-seeing old lag, a convict who runs the prison and sundry police and barristers who make one despair for truth and justice - the whole shebang works because the characters really do come alive to the demands of the script. Peter Postlethwaite as the ageing prisoner who befriends Coulter delivers a remarkable turn, while Bill Paterson as the chameleon-like cop goes up and down in our estimation as warring counsels attempt to strike deals and Ben suffers the harsh rigours of prison life. Wishaw is amazingly good as the frightened young man who may or may not be guilty, his expressions conveying the living hell he finds himself in.

As we turn on our televisions and see there's knife crime in our cities on an almost daily basis, CRIMINAL JUSTICE serves as a frightening reminder that the country is in very real danger of facing total meltdown, and the legal procedures are almost as terrifying with some of those enlisted to deliver justice playing the whole system at their own game of self-advancement. Indeed, this series has caused harsh words amongst the legal profession with a high-ranking barrister objecting to the portrayal of prosecuting and defending lawyers. Peter Moffat - former barrister and writer of CRIMINAL JUSTICE - of course begs to differ, and it's somewhat difficult to accept that his drama is totally separated from reality given the controversial miscarriages of justice down the years. While the final episode may have displayed a few fault lines, the series as a whole is of a very high standard. We may not have enjoyed viewing a drama that boldly underlines much of what is wrong with our society, but there was plenty to make us think and that's a real rarity with television output at the moment.

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