Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Silk: Legal-themed drama in wigs; too busy for lunch

Silk: Rupert Penry-Jones and Maxine Peake.
The frown means it's serious drama. (Photo: BBC)
Every legal drama needs a cockney. A wide-boy done good, working "up west" among the wigs of the criminal Bar.

In Silk, a new six part drama series on BBC One, it apears to be Billy Lamb (Neil Stuke), Senior Clerk of chambers and responsible for organising the barristers as they defend and prosecute various ne'er do wells of varying guilt.

And, naturally for a drama about those working in the criminal justice system, cockney Billy's not the lead character - despite the influence he has on their careers, he's bascially just the help.

Instead, this is all about Martha Costello: a tale of one woman's trials (literally) and tribulations (possibly literally - it's too soon to say, but it's likely).

Her aim is to become a QC - known as taking silk, after the silk gown QCs wear.

To do so she has to win her cases, and beat a rival candidate, for a successful application.

Ooh sounds like a six part drama series.

"Purses her lips"

Actress Maxine Peake purses her lips and rushes about everywhere as she plays the high-flying London barrister, 35 (ish), and with an accent that occasionally teeters on northern.

But this may be what writers call a "character point", a sign this high-flying professional hasn't lost her "roots".

And she cares too. Like, really cares?

She tells her new pupil (a trainee barrister), importantly: "It's about integrity of justice, Nick. It's about people getting a fair trial, and it matters so much."

You see? And the obligatory, pacily written and shot court scenes are all present and correct, but the scenes outside the courtroom are just as pacey, setting up Martha as not only someone with complete integrity for justice and that, but equipped with a witty retort at all times - and far too busy for a lunch break.


Maxine Peake plays Martha Costello: "too busy for lunch"
(Photo: BBC)
"Posh rival"

Oh no! She's dumped with two new cases the night before they're due to be heard by a judge.

Oh no! Rupert Penry-Jones plays a posh rival who also wants to be a QC.

He's celebrating after a defendent is aquitted following a date-rape charge, and sniffs a line of cocaine by way of a toast.

Martha spots him and is furious - she throws it away and then threatens to call the police, before he rolls down the stairs for a bit of extra visual colour. (Don't worry, Rupert fans. He's fine.)

And oh no! Martha's fridge in her flat is empty, although she likes to drink bottes of beer, and has a wardrobe full of identical white shirts. But does she ever eat?

She tries twice to speak to her mother in the episode but never gets very far - because, guess what, work always gets in the way.

You see the cost of her professional life on her personal life?

We get the picture. And I suspect we will be hearing more of this "theme" over the course of the series.

Meanwhile, Billy - who has a say in who gets to apply to be a QC from the chambers - has his own problems.

We know this because his spreadsheet showed a minus figure - chambers is losing money! - and then he threw a champagne glass against a wall which I think may mean he's angry.

This Billy, he knows stuff, see, and that's why I'm watching next week.

Every legal drama needs a Billy.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Secret Diary of a Call Girl: strangely comforting; great hair

Dame Billie Piper as Belle: Series four is the last 'in case they run out of plot' (pic: ITV)
If there's anything more comforting in life than a new series of The Secret Diary of a Call Girl starring Dame Billie Piper then I'd quite like to know about it.

It's curious, because the programme is often nothing more than Dame Billie strutting around in high heels and expensive clothes a lot, but it's a testament to her charisma that the programme is so enjoyable - all 22 minutes of it.

She does, as they say, "carry it". And "carry it" with aplomb, which is a very good word.

Which, in turn, probably has its advantages when you're playing a prostitute.

"Hooked on crack"

The programme's not-realistic-at-all depiction of the so-called "oldest profession" is glamourised to within an inch of its life, but the programme's emphasis on, erm, the funnier side of the job (if there even is one) is welcome.

I mean, who would want to see Billie standing on a dimly-lit street corner on a wet wintry Tuesday in, say, Derby, head to toe in Primark and desperate for a punter because she needs to pay her abusive pimp who's got her hooked on crack.

Where's the fun in that?! Besides, that's more Channel 4 than ITV2 - and ITV2 is Call Girl's perfect home.

Now in its fourth and final season, it is typical ITV2 fare - a little bit tacky, but with its tongue firmly where it should be. I MEAN IN ITS CHEEK READERS - I DON'T KNOW!

And what's even more delightful, is that Bille says this will be the last series because she's worried they will run out of plot, but the plot, such as it is, is paper-thin anyway.

We all just like to watch Billie pretend to have sex with "comic" men, or watch her talk directly to the camera as she struts around that impossibly large house she suddenly moved in to at the start of this series, and watch her tell people to "fuck off" in that charming way of hers.

You can't buy that class.*

*ironic

Outcasts: looks great, plot running late, patience a bonus

Outcasts: Daniel Mays, Hermione Norris and Ashley Walters take a tea break, probably
Set far in the future, Outcasts is a new sci-fi-esque BBC One eight parter, about a group of refugees from Earth working hard to establish a new community on a new planet.

But fortunately for the future of the human race, it's comforting to know that despite all the sadness and death and that, we will still have access to the latest autumn collection from Gap.

All of the cast look like they've just had a trolley dash around its big store at Oxford Circus, which is comforting when you're fighting for the very survival of our species.

I'm not sure if Outcasts is meant to be realistic, but everyone seems terribly serious - so I guess it is, as far as anything set a long time in the future on another planet can be.

It's just that no-one seems to stop for lunch and a fag, and no-one seems to like watching Miranda.

"Sweepin' - and admittedly stunning - vistas"

What with its sweepin' - and admittedly stunning - vistas, coupled with dimly lit rooms and plenty of whispered dialogue, Outcasts has "epic" written all over it.

Match that with a competent cast of well known and semi-well known actors all vying for the best lines, many of which are delivered with hands on hips as they stand around on craggy mountains or stomping across deserts, and you should have a hit on your hands.

Hermione Norris plays a similar character to the one she played in Spooks, as far as I can tell, while other recognisable faces from other programmes off the telly, all help sell the message of "big budget", "we want international sales", and "look at our production values", all at once.

The programme, now half way through its run of eight, is described in the press release as "a group of courageous pioneers facing a unique opportunity",  but it's probably more accurate to say "a group of courageous actors facing a unique opportunity".

It looks great, and it's even quite spectacular, but so far, I'm not just caring that much about what happens.

But then perhaps I shouldn't watch it while I'm doing my ironing.

Either way, let's hope it gets a second series.