Criminal Justice series one review
Justice is absolute. But the law is all about acceptable compromise. Fudges, deals, politics – whatever makes the wheels run smoother. This is one of the key themes of Criminal Justice , BBC’s impressive five-part drama. It focuses on Ben Coulter (Ben Whishaw), late teens, a nice enough soppy lad from a nice enough soppy family. You might call him middle-class but, like Amy Winehouse his dad drives a black cab so think upper-working class if that category is important to you. Ben takes his dad’s cab for a spin and picks up Melanie, a beautiful 20-year-old played by a very sweet piece of brown sugar encrusted pie called Ruth Negga who Aerial Telly will be following very closely in future. Anyway, he’s young, he’s drunk, he’s got his daddy’s T-Bird, he’s about to score with a mixed-race princess, what could possibly go wrong?
"’The truth can go to hell and if you don’t get that into your head right now you can forget about the rest of your life’. Hear that, rape boy? No one cares if you never done it."
Well, he could wake up to find Melanie dead from a knife wound to the chest, his DNA all over her with no memory of what happened after their (consensual) sex. Ben is quickly arrested and charged with rape and murder. He is assigned a sleazy low-rent solicitor Ralph Stone (Con O’Neil) who is a terrific character, immediately telling Ben that the truth doesn’t matter, encouraging the boy to stonewall his way through police interviews. "The truth can go to hell and if you don’t get that into your head right now you can forget about the rest of your life". Hear that, rape boy? No one cares if you never done it.
"Police who owe their careers to the numbers game chase stats, he chases criminals. Rapey bastards such as Ben, for example."
Detective Superintendent Harry Box (Bill Paterson, the first name on every director’s shortlist when a gritty Jock cop is needed) leads the case against Ben. Rather like a character on The Wire, He is hamstrung by officious career minded police who owe their careers to the numbers game. They chase stats, he chases criminals. Rapey bastards such as Ben, for example.
It’s interesting that we are nudged towards believing Ben’s innocence without ever getting explicit proof of it. He looks surprised when he finds the dead bitch in his bed and doesn’t look particularly killy but who can say? Maybe there will be a shock reveal later on.
"A gigantic skinhead psycho wants to slice Ben into tiny pieces. Picking up the fox in the cab suddenly seems like one of his less sussed moves."
When Ben’s bail is refused, he finds himself going to prison as somebody who raped and murdered a 20-year-old girl. And he’s about as hard as Paulie Bleeker from Juno. But not to worry because his cellmate Hooch (Pete Postlethwaite) is on hand to tell him how not to get beaten to death when everyone thinks you’re a rapey bastard. A gigantic skinhead psycho wants to slice Ben into tiny pieces. Picking up the fox in the cab suddenly seems like one of his less sussed moves.
"A ribald cast of chancers, do-gooders, maniacs and survivors occupy Moffat’s legal system at its various points of entry, trying their best to work a system that has every conceivable flaw."
Writer Peter Moffat was a barrister before he turned to screenplays and Criminal Justice is an attempt to guide us through the insanity of due process step-by-step. It’s an ambitious project and is startlingly well executed. A ribald cast of chancers, do-gooders, maniacs and survivors occupy Moffat’s legal system at its various points of entry, trying their best to work a system that has every conceivable flaw. It’s quietly convincing stuff and Ben Whishaw plays a compelling doomed wastrel being buffeted around the prison system. With two episodes down and three to go, you get the feeling this can’t end well. Intelligent critiques of criminal justice generally don’t.
The best thing about it: It has a consistent strong theme informing the action
The worst thing about it: Veers towards the preachy on occasion.
The verdict on Criminal Justice: Lawyer up boys, because this boy’s guilty as OJ.
Marks out of 10: 8
Imagined: 2nd July 2008