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Silk: It Goes Nicely with the Wigs
never went for Queens Council. He did
not need the letters QC after his name to take on the clients that interested
him. However, for mere mortal
barristers, it makes a world of difference for their careers. The barristers of Shoe Lane Chambers are
certainly human, at their best. The pursuit
of QC status and the silk robes that goes with it (hence the expression “taking
silk”) will weigh heavily on Shoe Lane’s two leading barristers in Silk (promo here), which premieres
on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery this
Martha Costello’s name sounds trustworthy.
She really believes in all that “innocent until proven guilty” and “everyone
is entitled to the best defense possible” rhetoric. Clive Reader is a different story. He is the John Edwards of chambers. A smarmy charmer, his sexual escapes are
already the stuff of Shoe Lane legend.
Both are going for silk. A
glad-hander like Reader would seem to have the inside track, but at least
Costello has the advantage of being good at her job. Inconveniently, not everyone sees it that way
in the opening episode.
small shingle like Shoe Lane depends on referrals from big time solicitors,
like the ones representing a nasty piece of work named Gary Rush. The ex-con stands accused of robbing and
beating an aging war veteran. The trial
does not seem to be going well for Costello, which may have adverse silk
implications for her. She is also having
a hard time with the accused drug mule she is simultaneously representing. It seems Reader may have pulled a fast one on
behalf of his own client, the co-defendant.
trials end on a rather ironic note, but there will be lasting repercussions
from the Rush case. Unfortunately, she made
a rather strong impression on the thug, to a degree that will eventually become
quite ominous. For the time being,
Costello will concentrate on more pressing matters, like her unplanned
pregnancy and defending an accused rapist.
It is not the sort of case she would like to take, but Shoe Lane’s
senior clerk Billy Lamb convinces her.
will pick up quite a bit of British legal lingo, but might remain baffled by
the ins and outs of a system where private barristers can represent both the
accused and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Colleagues from the same firm can even find
themselves facing each other or representing co-defendants with conflicting interests. Somehow it seems to work, but maybe not
second episode (or the third and fourth cobbled together for American television)
introduce two more continuing side-plots.
This will be the first time Costello represents Mark Draper, a troubled
youth accused of “cottaging” in a public men’s room. Kate Brockman, Shoe Lane’s prosecution
specialist, also starts conspiring to oust Lamb. Not simply an employee, Lamb and his senior
clerk brethren clearly exert considerable power behind the scenes, sort of like
Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister.
the final episode[s], Costello and Reader will sit for their silk interviews,
their pupils will compete in a moot trial, and Draper will be back in court—this
time on a murder trial. Costello will
also face off against one of Shoe Lane’s dullest and dumbest in a rare CPS
appearance. Arguably, her conflicted prosecution
of Tony Paddick, a cyber-stalked teacher who finally snapped, is probably the
best storyline of the entire first season.
It certainly raises the most issues regarding the nature of law and justice. Frankly, Silk
feels rather out of place in Masterpiece
Mystery’s line-up. Like its
barrister characters, the show never shows any real interest in who actually
committed each crime, but only whether they get a sufficiently robust defense.
is also way too much time devoted to Reader’s grossly inappropriate (but still
sadly clichéd) relationship with his pupil, Niamh Cranitch. Indeed, so much personal angst clutters Silk, it feels much more closely akin to L.A. Law than Perry Mason
or Rumpole of the Bailey. As a result, there is a real been-there-done-that
vibe to the show.
is worth noting Natalie Dormer of Game of
Thrones and the already announced third Hunger
Games movie co-stars as Cranitch, which may explain Masterpiece’s pick-up. She has
a screen presence, but her character acts far dumber than she sounds. Maxine Peake is perfectly likable as
Costello, but again her character could have been cribbed from Ally McBeel reruns. Likewise, Rupert Penry-Jones more or less
channels Corbin Bernsen’s Arnie Becker as Reader. The only principle to really distinguish Silk is Neil Stuke as the intriguingly Machiavellian
yet oddly paternalistic Lamb.
There is some decent courtroom drama in Silk as well as some passable
backstabbing intrigue, but it never really sings or dances for viewers. Despite some serviceable table-pounding, Silk does not make a compelling case for
itself. Just sort of whatever, it starts
its three week run tomorrow night (8/25) as part of the current season of Masterpiece Mystery on most PBS outlets
Labels: Masterpiece Mystery, Natalie Dormer