“Fools tell the truth”
Where success lies, so sequels inevitably follow and after the success of Peter Moffat’s Criminal Justice, a second series following a different case through the legal system was commissioned and broadcast in 2009. Maxine Peake starred as Juliet Miller, the central figure of the show, a housewife and mother thoroughly cowed by an intensely and secretly abusive relationship whose entry into the criminal justice system commences when she finally stabs her husband, a neatly counter-intuitive piece of casting in Matthew Macfadyen.
I enjoyed the first Ben Whishaw-starring series a huge amount and found it a fresh take on the crime genre so a re-run of something similar was never going to have quite the same impact. But although it is a different take on the model, it didn’t grip me in quite the same way, lacking that sense of relatability that came from having a young male protagonist. For this is a much more female-centric drama – domestic violence, mother-and-baby units, work/life balance are just some of the issues at hand as Peake’s Juliet reels from the impact of her actions, the suspicion with which she is treated, the stresses leading up to and during the trial.
She plays the role perfectly, so adept at conveying the emotional bruises of such a frightened woman and the conflicting loyalties that lie at her heart, so unused to looking after her own interests. And around her, the cast is filled with excellent actors playing some cracking characters: Sophie Okonedo’s intuitive solicitor, probing past Juliet’s frightened exterior; Helen Schlesinger’s gorgeously sensitive psychologist, guiding Ella to a reconciliation with her emotional state; Nadine Marshall’s crusading social worker, single-mindedly trying to get the best for mother and new baby.
But it also veers perilously close to the stereotypical: Ony Uhiara’s disgustingly vicious prisoner, Warren Brown’s lascivious prison guard, they just feel by numbers. At least Steven Mackintosh’s uncompromising cop, determined to fit Juliet up is interestingly balanced by his wife and partner in the police who is more equivocal about the case, Kate Hardie’s initial astringency increasingly tempered by an unease about her husband’s conviction which is shared by Denis Lawson’s much more inquisitive DCI.
So perhaps a little less compelling than series 1 and a little more specific in the slice of the justice system examined, but still a quality piece of television.