Acorn Media // 2010 // 240 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Byun (Retired) // August 2nd, 2011
Legal drama ripped from the pages of history!
The period courtroom drama featuring everyone's favorite 18th century English barrister is back for a second season.
Garrow's Law is a BBC television series adapted from the real-life courtroom exploits of William Garrow, who, as a reform-minded barrister at the Old Bailey, helped usher in many now-familiar legal innovations (he originated the notion of a defendant being "innocent until proven guilty"). Garrow -- portrayed by Andrew Buchan (Cranford's Jem) as a cocky, yet likable young man with a passion for social justice -- has risen to the bar from relatively humble beginnings, and as such sympathizes with the underdog to a degree unusual for the profession. The nonconformist boat-rocker is a familiar staple of TV dramas, but Garrow's Law freshens up the formula with an 18th century setting, and cases drawn from actual trials of the period.
The second series of Garrow's Law finds Garrow grappling with such controversial issues as slavery, homosexuality, and society's treatment of military veterans, battling his resident nemesis, prosecutor Silvester (Aidan McArdle, Beautiful People) under the jaundiced eye of Judge Buller (Michael Culkin, The Hours), and aided by his mentor, Southouse (Alun Armstrong, Bleak House). Meanwhile, Garrow's unconsummated romance with Lady Sarah (Lyndsey Marshall, Being Human) has landed both of them in hot water. Her husband, Sir Arthur, played by a delightfully vicious Rupert Graves (Made in Dagenham), is consumed with jealousy and convinced that Garrow is the father of his infant son. Sir Arthur sets in motion a revenge that lands Garrow himself in the defendant's stand.
As with the first season, Series Two of Garrow's Law comprises a mere four hour-long episodes:
* "Episode 1"
Garrow takes on slavery when he prosecutes the captain of a slave ship who threw a hundred slaves overboard after running low on drinking water. Of course, since slaves were considered cargo, the charge is not murder, but insurance fraud.
* "Episode 2"
When Garrow defends a man accused of sodomy -- a capital offense -- his investigation reveals a complex, heartbreaking truth.
* "Episode 3"
After the residents of a retirement home for British sailors protest their shoddy treatment, the man who petitions for reforms finds himself in Newgate jail for his troubles. It's up to Garrow to exonerate the sailor and expose the corruption of the Admiralty.
* "Episode 4"
Garrow himself is in the dock, accused of "criminal conversation" with Lady Sarah. Faced with fabricated evidence, a moralistic judge, and a jury eager to punish adultery, Garrow's future is on the line as he faces the toughest challenge of his career.
The legal procedural is such a worn-out television fixture at this point, it's amazing that they somehow keep being cranked out. Garrow's Law manages an intriguing take on the genre, however, setting the proceedings in the Age of Enlightenment and using actual 18th century court cases as inspiration. It's gimmicky, but it's surprising how well the formula works; the historical context provides a fresh perspective on issues familiar to modern audiences, such as a storyline dealing with two closeted gay men facing public humiliation and retribution.
With its edutaining mix of historical drama, courtroom theatrics, and soapy romantic intrigue, there's nary a dull moment in Garrow's Law; when Garrow's not teaching us something about how the legal system worked, back in the days when shoplifting was a hanging offense, he's entangled in an ever-growing thicket of sexual scandal involving his unattainable (and therefore irresistible) fellow law geek, Lady Sarah. The connective narrative thread between the four episodes, the noose around Garrow's neck (Sir Arthur's vengeful legal action threatens not only to destroy Garrow's career, but also to bankrupt him and land him in debtors' prison) tightens inexorably, building to an exciting, if not especially suspenseful (at least, not to anyone who reads William Garrow's Wikipedia entry) resolution.
Garrow's Law doesn't have the sumptuous gloss of a big-budget BBC production, but there's a wealth of period detail in the sets and costumes that draws the viewer right into the setting -- maybe a little too close, actually, given the sketchy hygiene of some of the Old Bailey spectators. Sharply written characters are brought fully to life by a splendid cast, with Andrew Buchan projecting the bright-eyed passion of an ambitious young barrister, and the shrewd intelligence of the fighter for social justice who literally changed legal history.
The series looks and sounds very good on DVD, with a clean, detailed image and Dolby 2.0 audio with good stereo separation. Extra features include a "William Garrow: Fact and Fiction" featurette that provides welcome historical background on the real-life Garrow and the cases portrayed in the series, as well as a behind-the-scenes photo gallery and cast filmographies.
As someone who's not even remotely a fan of courtroom dramas, I was pleasantly surprised by Garrow's Law. A sincere attention to historical accuracy, top-notch acting, and solid writing elevate the series from the cheesy melodrama it could have been, to an absorbing period drama that should please fans of either historical drama or legal procedurals.
The court finds Garrow's Law not guilty, but nevertheless orders it to
be hanged by the neck until dead, because the court has always wanted a chance
to say that.
Review content copyright © 2011 Bryan Byun; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 240 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* Official Site
* Wikipedia: William Garrow
* The Old Bailey Online