Monday, 30 November -0001

Television Reviews: 11 May

Written by Michael Moran


Return of the Big Wigs

Michael Moran applauds the new series of Silk

Michael-Moran1Silk returns to BBC One this week (Tuesday, BBC One at 9pm) and if you saw any of the fi rst series you'll know that it's gold-standard courtroom drama. Silk is a perfectly balanced bit of telly, more straightforwardly entertaining than its cousin North Square and more grittily plausible than Judge John Deed.

But what if you didn't see series one? Don't worry, the producers have thought of you too. There's a pre-title sequence that gives you a clear sense of where we are and neatly delineates the three primary characters. All in under a minute.

Maxine Peake stars as Martha Costello, a newly appointed QC who, despite her years of courtroom experience, faces a steep learning curve in the unforgiving arena of the Old Bailey. Rupert Penry-Jones is her friend and rival who might himself have taken silks at the conclusion of series one. As Clive Reader, Penry- Jones gets all the funniest oneliners. That may well be because Silk's writer, Peter Moffat, is giving Clive all the little gags and putdowns he wishes he had come up with in his own career at the bar.

Moffat is something of a specialist in this area, having written three other big-hitting legal dramas. It's reasonable to say that all that practise, both with briefs and with scripts, has turned him into a world-class operator in the genre.

Neil Stuke returns as Billy Lamb, the senior clerk of the chambers. An avuncular wide boy, he has a warm heart that's only slightly compromised by his eye for the main chance. There are a couple of new characters too, notably Frances Barber's winning turn as a prosecuting counsel. If her 30-second introduction doesn't have someone, somewhere at the BBC murmuring 'spin-off potential' to themselves, then someone, somewhere at the BBC needs to be taken to court.

Phil Davis turns up too as a somewhat unscrupulous solicitor. All told, we're looking at quite a distinguished cast here and it would be a genuine pleasure to watch them at work in even a fairly routine yarn. And Silk is no routine yarn: in this first episode of the series we are presented with what might at first seem a cut-and-dried case, but it's a plot that wriggles around like an angry eel in a car wash.

Martha Costello is given the brief to defend an enormous, inarticulate lummox who has been charged with a quite repellent crime. Likeable as she is, you will be willing her to fail. Don't imagine you can predict the outcome.

Every day we see news stories suggesting that lawyers are quite unscrupulous characters. Silk, without glossing over the grimier elements of the legal machinery, goes some way towards humanising those people in the old-fashioned wigs.

So if you have some pressing engagement that takes you out of the house on Tuesday evening, be sure to instruct your TV recorder to adjourn viewing for a later date. It's more-or-less unmissable.

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