Monday, July 07, 2008

Criminal Tosh

If you want a different opinion on Criminal Justice (BBC1, last week) from that of just about every professional critic, here it is: I thought it was an over-long, overblown pile of tosh.
Stripped across five weekday nights, it was a whopping five hours of television. The thin plot could have been dealt with by The Bill in two episodes, or even one if the script editor was on the ball.
Would anyone have sat in a cinema and watched a movie that lasted five hours?

I started watching it because last Monday programmes were delayed by the tennis. I continued because it had pretensions beyond simple entertainment and because miscarriages of justice have always interested me.
I also wondered how much more bonkers it could get. It got more bonkers with every episode. When was the last time that an expert witness cheerfully revealed to the court that the night before she'd had sex with the prosecuting solicitor? Or the defence barrister went down to the cells to snog her client?
Such criticisms produce the usual defence: this was a drama.
OK, but in that case don't try to sell it on its realism.

My other problem was that I wanted to slap the face of the central character. A large part of every episode consisted of close-ups of Ben Wishaw looking like an anguished sheep with a vet's arm up its arse.
For a long time I thought this character was supposed to be, in an old-fashioned phrase, 'a bit simple'. But then it was revealed he had been to university.
My own reaction aside, he was clearly meant to evoke our sympathy. But a braver and more realistic drama would have been based on the fact that many victims of miscarriages of justice are from the criminal classes (which is why they are on the police radar to start with) and may be deeply unappealing characters. They still, of course, don't deserve to be banged up for something they didn't do.
But, like those 'based on a true story' American TV movies, this was a sweet, telegenic boy from a good family whose father could afford to pay for a top barrister.
Actually, his father was only a taxi driver but given what taxis charge these days I suppose that wasn't so implausible.

The implausibility of everything else was only matched by the presence of every cliché of the genre: the old-school, rule-breaking copper; the naive, rookie constable; the psycho prison bully; the shambling, maverick defence solicitor; the old lag teamed up with the first-time prisoner. The last was like Porridge but without the jokes.
This expensive, pretentious epic stole five hours of my life, but I've only myself to blame for that.
The real tragedy is that by presenting a miscarriage of justice through the distorting lens of a fictional and imbecilic TV drama, it missed the chance to give a genuine insight into the banality of the regular wrongful convictions that occur in real life, leaving the impression 'this was so bloody silly it could only happen in a TV drama'.
For the vast amount of money that this must have cost, the BBC could have brought back Rough Justice which investigated real cases and which it shamefully axed a few years ago.


At 8:09 PM, Blogger Vicus Scurra said...

As ever, I am in your debt. I would have watched this had it not clashed with other stuff on some nights. I see that this was five hours of my life that I can now spend doing something much more worthwhile. If I ever find anything more worthwhile I will let you know.
Just one little quibble:
"For a long time I thought this character was supposed to be, in an old-fashioned phrase, 'a bit simple'. But then it was revealed he had been to university."
Thatcher went to university.

Your word verification is "lapox". An STD specific to California? Whatever next?

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

I was going to add the qualification that you almost need to have 'learning difficulties' not to go to university these days but I'm trying to curb my tendency to prolixity.

Isn't 'lapox' an STD you catch in lap-dancing clubs?

At 11:30 AM, Blogger Geoff said...

I couldn't believe the jury took just an hour and a half to send him down. Surely at least one of them wouldn't have taken everything the police said as gospel and ignored the tampering of the evidence?

I also couldn't believe it when he said he'd had a trial for West Ham. He was far too good for us.

At 7:14 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

geoff: I can believe almost anything about juries, of which I am no great fan.

Wasn't he the most unlikely person to have had a trial as a professional footballer? Apart from being stupid, of course.


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