Not a massive week for TV however the debut of two BBC dramas means we have something to talk about.
Starting off with the return of the series that one the coveted number 1 spot in the TV Blog Top 25 shows of the year, that show being Criminal Justice. However as Ben Whishaw’s character was acquitted at the end of the first series and everyone else either died or was revealed as corrupt it stands to right that this series be about completely different characters but at least writer and former lawyer Peter Moffatt is on board again for this series. Instead we have Juliet Miller played by Maxine Peake, a well-to-do housewife married to a brilliant barrister and mother to a 13 year old daughter. But behind the scenes Juliet isn’t happy with her marriage she feels trapped by the authoritative Joe and there is evidence of marital rape in the first episode she stabs Joe and is charged with manslaughter and later when Joe dies, murder. Like the first series Juliet is processed through the Criminal Justice series with the title being mentioned at least twice just to ram it home to everyone that the CRIMINAL JUSTICE system is being scrutinised to an extent. Whereas as the first series focused on Ben Whishaw’s character having to survive in prison and the sometimes exaggerated characters he met there, Juliet has to deal with being pregnant and also what’s going to happen to her daughter Ella. These elements bring in the mother and baby unit and the laws that govern new mums in prison as well as the social services as Ella goes to live with her friend Kate’s parents who may be hiding secrets themselves. The police are also scrutinised as Juliet’s actions towards Joe’s behaviour are heavily criticised by DI Sexton who wants her banged to rights this is later explained as he behaves very similarly to his DS wife who is pregnant but doesn’t reveal this to him.
Also last time the solicitors were secondary figures and sure of Ben Whishaw’s innocent character’s guilt. Obviously this time with Juliet being guilty the female team of Sophie Okenedo’s solicitor and Zoe Telford’s barrister have to present a case of spousal abuse but struggle due to Juliet’s reluctance to speak about her trauma. Whereas the first series of Criminal Justice was very brutal and harsh as we saw how Whishaw was treated in prison this was all about social standing and the slow-burning nature of the revelations of Joe and Juliet’s marriage suited the show. The acting of course was brilliant Maxine Peake is great in everything and it was nice to see her play someone who isn’t as self-assured as some of the strong Northern women that she usually portrays. Of the supporting cast Okenedo, last seen as Nancy in 2007′s Oliver Twist, was great as solicitor Jaq while Steven Makintosh (as the easy-to-persecute DI), Jodie McNee (as Juliet’s self-harming cellmate), Nadine Marshall (as the hard-working social worker) and one of my favourites Eddie Marsden (as Joe’s QC best friend) were equally brilliant. Praise must also be heaped upon Alice Sykes as Ella who had to decide whether her mother deserved to go to prison for a long time for killing her father, she delivered some very emotional scenes with great conviction. Moffat’s script gave three-dimensional characters believable dialogue and created some great tension. However I felt there was some things lacking including a resolution to some of the sub-plots and I would’ve preferred a happier ending for Juliet, but then those things don’t always happen in real life. One of the best dramas of the year, Moffat must come up with some more new ideas if Criminal Justice is recommissioned once again.
Secondly we come to BBC1′s traditional autumn costume drama adaptation and the book this time is Jane Austen’s Emma a book that has been translated many times onto the screen most notably last decade’s film starring Gwyneth Paltrow. I think it’s harder to watch one of these adaptations if you are familiar with text because you will always pick up sections of the book that have been cut out or ways that your favourite characters have been changed to suit the storytelling. Luckily I’m not au fait with the story of Emma, certainly not in the way that I am with the other popular Austen works: Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility both of which have had big and small screen adaptations in the last few years. The main plot of Emma is that of a fanciful girl who enjoys match-making and thinks she can spot who is right for each other before they do. Initially she does and then things start to go wrong when a match she makes for her new dippy-as-hell best friend Harriet, the religious Mr. Elton, goes horribly wrong when he falls for her. People bob in and out of the story, Emma falls for the handsome Frank Churchill but it is later revealed that he is in love with another girl but can’t marry her due to some family disapproval. Essentially it’s classic Austen where everyone knows who they like but can’t be together because of issues of class, money or sheer foolishness. At the end of the day I think all the issues could’ve been resolved with just giving everyone a big slap.
Emma eventually finds love with her childhood friend Mr. Knightley with whom she indulges in several verbal sparring matches during the story until she finally realises that she has been in love with him from the very start. As Emma, Romola Gari (best known for her role in Atonement), brings a breezy and brightness to the role making Emma likeable even in her more vain and unlikeable moments. Jonny Lee Miller brings a sense of dependability to his role as Mr. Knightley. Because of his past in British realism films some people thought that he was a little wrong for the role but his delivery of the lines was great and his chemistry with Gari was winning. Of the supporting cast Michael Gambon shone as Emma’s traditionalist father and Tasmin Grieg played the very dull but lovely Mrs. Bates. All in all it was a nice way to spend Sunday evening, personally I think there should be more adaptations of books people are less familiar with, such as Andrew Davies’ adaptations of Little Dorritt and Bleak House, but if you didn’t know the story then this was a fine introduction to it – nice to look at, well performed and another ratings hit for the BBC costume drama department.
Next Time: Life, The Restaurant and Around the World in Eighty Days