Criminal Justice Series 1 and Series 2
by Del Harvey
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Britain’s criminal justice system is generally considered the best in the world. Why, then, wouldn’t you want to make a film or TV mini-series out of it? Well, that’s exactly what they did over at BBC. In fact, two have been made and have been released on DVD here in the States, and each one is superb television. If you enjoy Law & Order (the original US model or the British upgrade), then Criminal Justice is just your cuppa tea.
The first series, titled simply Criminal Justice, was first shown on the BBC in 2008. It was written by Peter Moffat, with each five-episode series following the journey of an individual through the justice system. Right at the start we are given some information about this individual, then we are shown the aftermath of the crime and for most of the program we are taken through their experience in the criminal justice system. Finally, we are given an indication of what happens to them after a verdict has been pronounced.
Series 1 stars Ben Whishaw as Ben Coulter, a young man accused of murder after a drunken and drug-laced night out, although his big problem is he cannot remember committing the crime. But he is certain he did not do it.
After winning a crucial soccer (foot-ball) contest, young Ben Coulter takes his parents’ black cab out for the night when his VW won’t start. When Ben pulls over to talk on the phone, a young woman gets into the cab. Despite telling her he does not take fares, she insists on going to the seaside. While there, she offers Ben ecstasy, which he accepts. The pair go back to her house, and after sleeping together, Ben awakes downstairs, sees a knife on the table where he was sleeping. He goes upstairs to find the girl dead and with a stab wound to the chest. Police stop a frantic Ben after he crashes the taxi in shock. They later find he matches a description given by a neighbor, who saw Ben break into the girl’s house to wipe his DNA off the house. They also find a knife in Ben’s pocket. He is arrested on suspicion of murder and he is later charged and refused bail.
Thus begins Ben’s ordeal in the criminal justice system.
It was directed by Otto Bathurst and Luke Watson and won two British Academy Television Awards for Best Drama Serial and Best Writer, three Royal Television Society Awards and an International Emmy.
Criminal Justice, Series 2 was originally released in 2009, and featured Maxine Peake as troubled housewife Juliet Miller whose husband was stabbed in their bed. The series follows Juliet as she struggles to lead a normal life and, after stabbing her abusive husband, follows her experiences through the criminal justice system. Matthew Macfadyen plays hyper-controlling husband Joe, a barrister at the height of his professional powers. He is married to Juliet who is fragile and isolated at home. They have one daughter, 13-year-old Ella, played by Alice Sykes. Other cast members include Sophie Okonedo, Denis Lawson, Steven MacKintosh, Eddie Marsan, Zoe Telford and Kate Hardie.
Yann Demange and Marc Jobst directed this series. It won a British television Best Supporting Actor for Matthew McFayden.
BFS has released these two series in DVD format, very finely packaged and featuring subtitles for those of us who cannot understand English the way the English speak it.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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