When no one is looking, Judge Jason Panella puts on a white wig and practices his English accent.
"There's a thin line between helping people and self-indulgence."
The latest legal drama from Peter Moffat (Criminal Justice, North Square), Silk: Season One tries to capture the chaos of the British legal world…and ends up being a chaotic (and watchable) show.
Facts of the Case
Martha Costello (Maxine Peak, Dinnerladies) is a motivated—and incredibly compassionate—barrister in London. Clive Reader (Rupert Penry-Jones, Spooks) is a smarmy, womanizing barrister from the same chambers. Both Reader and Costello are trying to "take the silk"—that is, get appointed to the elite Queen's Council. As they jockey for position, the two lawyers experience the ups and downs of the often merciless profession.
BBC's Silk: Season One is comprised of six hour-long episodes, all in original UK format.
Martha Costello cares. Her career as a barrister is built on the fact that she believes in justice—not as some abstraction, but as a real thing her clients deserve. She treats her clients like people and, as several of her colleagues point out, Martha tends to get personally invested in her cases. It also helps that she's thoughtful and deliberate out of the courtroom, too; just the sort of person who would make a fine Queen's Council. Clive Reader is also a skilled, driven barrister, though his ambition comes from a different sort of hunger. He knows how to win in court, and does what it takes. He's a charmer, and Reader's reputation as a ladies' man is well known. Reader also wants to make it to the Queen's Council, but they can't take both him and Costello.
Silk follows these two wildly different members of the bar as they butt heads, but the show is more than this central conflict. Show creator Peter Moffat, a former barrister, was interested in showing how fast-paced and treacherous the legal world in England could be. The show certainly conveys the chaos, and it isn't always a good thingâ€"the show seems to lose its sense of purpose as it balances several season-long story arcs with numerous subplots and cases-of-the-week. But it still adds up to an impressive sum.
The overall tone of the show makes an impact, too, especially since Moffat seems to be trying to point out the demanding and unglamourous aspects of the legal world. Barristers cram legal briefs the night before a big case while slamming lagers only to forget important bits the next day. Inexperienced lawyers make a mess of their first cases. Insane schedules make a wreck of the personal lives of the folks in the chambers. People have emotional breakdowns while listening to the Smiths (which, honestly, isn't that unique to the legal world). The various subplots help give the show's world some flavor in this regard, tooâ€"senior clerk Billy Lamb (the excellent Neil Stuke, The Bill), for instance, tries to thwart a coup aimed to oust him, and newbies Nick (Tom Hughes, Cemetery Junction) and Niamh (Natalie Dormer, Game of Thrones) learn from their many, many mistakes in court. Add all of this together and you get a captivating whole. The problem, however, is that there's sometimes too much going on, especially when you include a half a dozen more little plotlines that come and go. It doesn't help that many of the supporting characters slide from lily-white do-gooders to mustache-twirling jerks depending on what the episode demands. I get that people are complex, but sometimes the shifts are too cartoonish to be believed. Does this detract from the show? Sure, but not enough to make it bad.
BBC Home Entertainment's set of Silk: Season One includes two DVDs. The 1.78:1 standard definition anamorphic widescreen presentation merely does the job, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is just as adequate. I have to point out that Silk has one of the most repetitive scores I've heard in a while, which is made even more annoying by how the theme keeps working its way into every nook and cranny of the episodes. And extras? Just the substantially thin "Behind the Scenes" (13:20) featurette is all we get.
Silk isn't perfect, but it has a lot going for it. If you like compelling legal dramas, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
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Studio: BBC Video
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