I’ve now seen the whole series of BBC1’s new costume drama series, Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey, written by Tony Marchant, who has previously adapted Great Expectations, and directed by Peter Lydon. I enjoyed it a lot but can’t think of much to add to what I wrote here after the first episode, so I’m updating/expanding this posting instead of writing a whole new one. I do hope there will be a second series as the ratings were pretty good, around four million, and the drama seemed just to be getting into its stride when it was all over.
I think Andrew Buchan in particular is excellent in the title role as pioneering 18th-century barrister William Garrow, who fought to make sure defendants were properly represented and not assumed to be guilty without a fair trial. I’d only seen him in one or two smaller parts before this, but in this drama he has an intense presence, and he makes a good combination with Alun Armstrong as his instructing attorney, Southouse.
Armstrong gives a more understated performance in this than in some other dramas he has starred in, but his acting is nonetheless powerful for that. His character constantly insists that the law must be taken seriously and studied, that there can be no short cuts – while Garrow is sometimes tempted to go for a flashy gesture or trick in the courtroom rather than doing the work first. However, they are both utterly dedicated to defending their clients, even if their methods are sometimes different, and their grudging respect for one another grows steadily through the series.
It’s also always refreshing to see a historical drama which turns the spotlight not just on the people who could afford the fine costumes, but also on the servants and poor people who so often landed up in the dock, their main crime apparently being their poverty. All the cases featured in the series are based on fact, ranging from infanticide to rape and highway robbery, though sometimes real cases are combined and changed in some aspects. One of the most disturbing aspects of the series was the way that “thief takers” – a sort of cross between early police and private detectives – sometimes appeared to plant evidence and pay witnesses in order to keep up the conviction rate and earn their fees. The legal and historical consultant on the show, Mark Pallis, has set up a blog at WordPress giving valuable background information.
While the cases themselves have a factual basis, I had assumed the simmering romance between Garrow and Lady Sarah Hill (Lyndsey Marshal), a sort of aristocratic patron who takes an interest in legal reform, was invented. However, I’m now editing my posting (December 20), after a visitor to my blog kindly corrected me, below, and pointed out that the romance with Sarah was real. In fact her name was Sarah Dore and she lived with Arthur Hill rather than being married to him, which is why I’d previously failed to find out anything about her on the web! I was pleased that, rather than just being a tagged-on- “love interest”, Sarah is shown as passionately interested in the work of the court and in defending those who otherwise would have no voice – and that at times she disagrees with Garrow’s priorities. Stemming from the romance plot is a powerful episode where Garrow is tempted into challenging a rival lawyer, Silvester (Aidan McArdle) to a duel – this incident is fictional. I thought this whole storyline works well in stripping away the glamour surrounding duels, and showing just how sordid it really was, with the combatants being caught up in a system of deadly etiquette offering little opportunity to turn back.
All in all, I liked Garrow’s Law and am sorry there were only four episodes. More, please, BBC!