Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey ended it’s four part run on BBC 1 on Sunday, so with m’lud’s permission, I’d like to offer my verdict and say I loved it.
Garrow’s Law has been a delight to brighten these dark November nights and many others feel the same, judging by the buzz on the web and elsewhere. Please, BBC, commission a second series! It’s been a long time since I have been as enthralled by TV programme as I was by Garrow’s Law.
Well done to everyone involved in bringing it to the screen – great script, fabulous performances, high production values, engrossing storylines = quality entertainment. Perfect.
For those who were watching X-Factor or I’m a Celebrity over on ITV and missed this slice of TV heaven, here’s a quick resume. Garrow’s Law is set in Georgian London in the 18th century. Co-created and written by Tony Marchant, one of our best TV scriptwriters, it is inspired by the life of the brilliant, pioneering barrister William Garrow (played by Andrew Buchan, about whom more anon) and his struggle to reform the legal system. Each one hour episode follows Garrow and his associate Southouse (played by Alun Armstrong) in their fight for justice. The cases featured are all drawn from actual trial transcripts available at the OldBaileyOnline.
William Garrow was born in Uxbridge, Middlesex in 1760. He was articled at the age of 15 to an attorney, John Southouse of Milk Street, Cheapside and admitted as a student to Lincoln’s Inn in 1778. During his legal studies, he spent hours observing what passed for fair trials and when called to the Bar in 1783, he set about redressing the balance – trials then were firmly skewed in favour of the prosecution. Prosecutions were taken out privately and reward-driven. The accused were put in the dock and often had no-one to defend them. All they could to do was speak for themselves and be found guilty or not guilty depending on how they answered the questions. Even if a prisoner had defence counsel, the barrister wasn’t allowed to see the indictment against his client or visit him in prison. Nor, amazingly, was defence counsel allowed to address the jury or make an opening or closing address. A mob-like atmosphere pervaded the court. Justice was indeed rough and stakes were high. Once found guilty, the prisoner could be sent to the gallows for even minor offences.
Garrow was considered common and ignorant by his rivals because of his unorthodox entry into the law (he had not been to Oxford). He also had the insecurity of his lower middle class background to contend with. He was, however, a gifted and driven maverick and enjoyed immediate success when called to the Bar, his exploits in court soon catching the attention of the press. Over the following decade, Garrow, acting for the defence in the vast majority of cases, championed the underdog and raised the rigorous cross-examination of prosecution witnesses to an art form that paved the way for the modern adversarial system as practised in the United Kingdom and its former colonies, including the US. He pioneered the right to be presumed innocent until convicted by a jury beyond reasonable doubt.
Garrow later became King’s Counsel, Solicitor-General, Attorney-General, Judge and an MP, but the series concentrates on his early, trailblazing years at the Old Bailey.
By all accounts, Garrow’s private life was as extraordinary as his professional life and we get tantalising glimpses of the burgeoning romance between William and Sarah Hill (played by the captivating Lyndsey Marshal), the wife of prominent MP Sir Arthur Hill (Rupert Graves). There is also the father-son relationship between Southouse and Garrow, beautifully observed by the always excellent Alun Armstrong and Andrew Buchan.
Ah yes, Andrew Buchan – he gives a wonderful performance as Garrow, a seething mass of aggression, arrogance, quick temper, insecurities, incredible intellect and insight, righteous indignation, eloquence, pride and passion. I’ve seen Andy in other roles, including Party Animals, Cranford and more recently as hitman John Mercer in ITV’s great drama The Fixer.
It speaks volumes for his talent that he can tackle two such diverse roles and make them entirely his own. And any bloke who can deliver smouldering looks while wearing a wig, hair extensions and heels deserves massive kudos *g* It’s not giving any spoilers to say that the glass of water moment in episode 4 of Garrow’s Law is my TV highlight of 2009 ;0)
It’s astonishing to think that few people have ever heard of William Garrow, including those in the legal profession. This series should redress that. I hope it wins plenty of awards – it certainly deserves to. For his achievements, Garrow deserves his place in history, his place in the nation’s consciousness and perhaps a place on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar square. Despite the historical setting and occasionally arcane language, Garrow’s Law feels curiously pertinent to today. It serves as a reminder that the rights and legal system we enjoy now had to be fought for and should never be taken for granted.
Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey, stars Andrew Buchan as William Garrow, Alun Armstrong as John Southouse, Lyndsey Marshal as Lady Sarah Hill, Rupert Graves as Sir Arthur Hill, Aidan McArdle as John Silvester and Michael Culkin as Judge Buller.
So what are you waiting for? 😀 For those in the UK, it’s still available on iPlayer for short time. Catch it while you can. The DVD is available 4th January 2010 and can be preordered now from BBC Shop, Amazon and other outlets. When you’ve done that, contact the BBC via email@example.com and add your voice to the clamour for a second series…
If you want to find out more, here are some useful links:
The official BBC website for Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey
The TwentyTwenty Television website page for the series.
Mark Pallis’s wordpress blog (legal and historical consultant to the series).
Sir William Garrow: His Life, Times and Fight for Justice by John Hosstettler and Richard Braby (a descendant of Garrow) with a foreword by Geoffrey Robertson QC – published by Waterside Press on 30th November 2009.
BBC Promo for Garrow’s Law on YouTube…
No news yet on Edmund Butt’s fabulous soundtrack being issued but fingers crossed the BBC realize they are onto a winner with Garrow’s Law and make it available alongside the DVD.
(all photos copyright BBC and ITV)