Reviewer: Charity Bishop
What if instead of "innocent until proven guilty," you were in a legal system that believed in "guilty until proven innocent? Such was the case in the 1700's... until William Garrow came along.
An idealistic young barrister eager to embrace the bar and abandon filing briefs at the office, William Garrow (Andrew Buchan) has his first chance at a court trial when he offers to represent a client belonging to Mr. Southouse (Alun Armstrong) for half a guinea. Confidence turns to arrogance and then despair in the trial when he realizes the system is stacked against him and his lack of experience hampers his success. Though his pride is wounded at having been thus brought low, it has also gained the attention of Lady Sarah (Lyndsey Marshal), who becomes something of his patron when she hands him a second case and offers to pay his fee. Intent on saving his clients' miserable lives instead of playing "gentlemen at court," Garrow rapidly begins to make a name for himself in society even as he realizes the bitter unfairness of the judicial system and takes drastic measures to level the playing field. His most frequent opponent is Prosecutor Silvester (Aidan McArdle) but Lady Sarah's powerful and politically active husband (Rupert Graves) is not terribly pleased with him either.
I had never learned much about this historical figure in school other than a few facts so I sought out this series with interest. It's actually quite compelling in the sense that you realize just how unfair the system was until Garrow came along (half the defendants were not even given counsel, merely heard and sentenced -- often to the gallows); his passionate arguments are concise and well executed, his desire to make certain his client is innocent at the forefront. He wins some, he loses some, but it is always entertaining and exciting to watch him try. The production value is very high, with gorgeous period costumes and a solid cast. I was particularly impressed with how likable Garrow comes across, with his idealistic tendencies and compassion for the lower classes -- even though we know he will wind up entangled romantically with a married women (this is historically accurate). The cast has nice chemistry together and the cases are chosen for their uniqueness or their controversy (in one, a maid is accused of murdering her newly born child, in another a serial "cutter" is out and about in London, terrorizing women by slicing them with a knife on his way past).
Content-wise, there is not much to be concerned about but there are some discussion of the crimes and we see a portion of each one (never explicit), such as women finding blood on their fingers after being cut, a maid retreating beneath the stairs with a knife (we see a lot of bare leg, in the same episode it's implied Garrow is present during a difficult birth and entirely nonplussed about seeing so much of the patient -- his companion is scandalized and retreats at once), and a man being beaten to death (off-screen). A man terrorizes the women of London by slicing into them with a knife (only deep enough to bleed); it's inferred that a man is stoned while in the gallows. Discussion revolves around lechery and seduction; there are references to sodomy being a crime, one midseason case revolves around a nobleman having raped his servant girl. Garrow gently speaks with her on the stand and forces her to admit to another sexual encounter with someone else. There is occasional mild language, including several uses of b*tch, bloody, and mild profanities. Garrow tries to put the state of a deceased man in delicate terms, but the judge explains it in more blunt terms, using a slang term for a portion of the man's anatomy.
Historically, William Garrow eventually carried on a relationship with Lady Sarah. This series hints at the beginnings of their attraction to one another and at one point he asks her to run away with him; as she is pregnant with her husband's child at the time, she declines and insists on remaining faithful to him. Other than that, and sensing where the story will ultimately lead (though I suspect, not in a graphic manner), I very much enjoyed this series. I loved the glimpse into the judicial system of the time and seeing where many of our current legal policies originated -- such things as innocent until proven guilty, and the defendant's attorney's right to address the jury on his behalf. The acting is marvelous, the chemistry between the leads superb, and it never fails to entertain, whether it is dealing with the trial of common thieves or those accused of high treason. It's far cleaner than I anticipated and quite compelling. I suspect a great many costume drama fans who also enjoy legal shows would love it.