Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Law and Order: UK

I've now watched four episodes of Law and Order: UK, and I have to say I'm a little underwhelmed. I remember a few years ago when CSI: Miami started, a friend of mine said it would be funny if we did spin-offs like that and had The Bill: Newcastle, and we all laughed. I think we were right.

I think one of the oddest things about it is that they've re-used old plots and just re-jigged them. Last week's was a new version of the one that Felicity Huffman was in as a soccer mom-turned-escort, with Elaine Stritch as her defence counsel, and last night's was the one where an old body (you know what I mean) is found at the beginning and turns out to be the victim from an old case; the accused is in prison and has to be re-tried. He has been reading lots of law books while incarcerated, and does a neat job of beating Jack McCoy, sorry, James Steel. If you've watched repeats, and let's face it if you watch L&O you watch the repeats too, you know what's going to happen. There are some changes made to fit with local practice, but the whole thing is like reading one of those web pages that's been translated by a bot. All the characters have been given equivalents, regardless of how detectives or barristers actually work in Britain, and I don't think it works.
A lot of the emphasis on plea bargaining has been retained and it simply doesn't translate: although a sort of plea bargaining takes place in England and Wales, it's not the same. (There has been some discussion of this on the IMDB boards, if you want to follow this up.) Another thing is that there isn't a single legal system in the UK: there separate ones in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It would make more sense if it were Law and Order: London. Confused? You will be.

I think a lot of the actors are good.

Bradley Walsh has the Lennie Briscoe role and it's funny seeing him oldified after he played a serial adulterer in Coronation Street (see above with the glasses and right with added mascara), but he's doing a lot with what he's been given. You can see him talking about the role and fattening up for it here.

Jamie Bamber is the cute one, although I think we could be allowed to have an episode off from everyone pointing this out.

Bill Paterson has got lots of opportunities to twinkle.

Ben Daniels was good at first, but last night his character was being so wibbly that it was quite unconvincing. No prosecution counsel would allow himself to look as overwhelmed as that in court, but maybe that's the director's fault, not Ben's. I'm not very convinced by Freema Agyeman: if you think how clever and how hard-working a woman, espcially a black woman, has to be in order to become a barrister, she should be a bit less drippy. I can't help thinking she should dress better too.

The lawyers spend too much time explaining the law to one another, which is always a problem for legal shows, but more annoyingly, they also spend a lot of time getting steamed up about 'justice'. In my experience, which I'm happy to say is limited, lawyers concern themselves with legality, not justice.

There doesn't seem to me to be very much London in it either. Apart from the big set pieces like the Old Bailey, much of it is shot in such tight close-up that it could have been filmed in a car-park in Doncaster.

I wonder how it will pan out. Will it go the way of L&O: Trial by Jury, which I actually found embarrassing to watch even when I was alone, it was so wooden; or will it gain a life of its own? I hope it takes off and that my complaints turn out to be teething troubles.

Real Life
I did jury duty at the Old Bailey in the late '70s. I served on two juries, but of course I can't tell you about it because we're not allowed to discuss what happened. They were fairly trivial cases because it was August and cases from lower cases were being swept up at the end of the summer to get the decks clear, so nothing juicy, thank goodness. The courtrooms we sat in were bland and modern, although we did sit in Court Number One while a clerk took us through some of the routines and I took the opportunity to soak up the atmpsphere.

I found that I would sit there listening to people and think. 'I wonder how this is going to turn out,' and then I would realize that it was real life and it was partly up to me how it was going to turn out, which was very alarming. As always happens when you find yourself in a group of people, strangers, the individuals start to take up different roles. (I got stuck in one of those big lifts in the London Underground once, with about seven people, and I swear it was like an Afternoon Play on Radio 4). We weren't exactly the same group on both cases, but close enough, and I was really reassured by them; everyone took their responsibilities seriously and spent time on going over the details. We were about 7 men and five women; eleven white and one black; eleven straight and one gay; eleven Christians and one atheist, and no, we didn't include a gay black atheist; I don't remember the ratio of middle-aged to young, although I would notice it now.

We were fairly much of one mind. Although we spent time discussing details and establishing why we believed this or that, there were no dramatic Twelve Angry Men moments. In between making life-changing decisions, we chatted about nothing in particular.

In the second case we found the accused Not Guilty and I think the court was flabbergasted; they never satisfactorily explained to us why it might be a crime to sit in a pub with something in your pocket and their evidence gave away far too much about what went on in police stations for us to be interested in punishing anyone else. I was amazed in that case by how unprepared the police were when it came to giving evidence: they actually addressed the female counsel as 'Sir'. I thought at first that this was some bizarre courtroom ritual, but then I realized it was just sheer terror and unfamiliarity with women barristers.

In the other case, I remember watching the accused and wondering if I would be able to tell whether he was lying, and then suddenly realizing that he had stopped lying and it was as clear as day. When the evidence reached a certain point, he relaxed as visibly as if a puppet-master had let go of his strings.

At the end, I collected my expenses - tube fare to court for a couple of weeks, and maybe some lunches, I don't remember - and went and spent it on underwear in Marks and Spencer to cheer myself up.

For those of you thought this was a knitting blog, normal service will be resumed shortly.


Knitting Linguist said...

This is all tremendously interesting. I can't believe that they are keeping the L&O UK the same as if it were in the U.S. One of the great things about L&O, from my perspective (the US version, that is) is that it gives some sense of what goes on behind the scenes between the two sides of a prosecution (e.g. the police and the lawyers). So not staying true to the UK system seems like it runs counter to the show. I also enjoyed hearing about your jury experience. I was forewoman on a jury a few years ago -- it was a drunk driving case (we can say that, but no identifying details), with two possible convictions: one for driving with a certain blood alcohol level, and one for driving "under the influence". The amazing thing was that we managed to agree that the driver was above the legal limit, but we hung on whether he was under the influence, because of one young man. It was very odd...

Brigid said...

I was also quite reassured by my jury service ten or so years ago. We were a mixed bunch, too, and it was interesting to see how much of the decision came down to whether we believed someone was telling the truth (obvious really when you think about it).

lin said...
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