Reuniting Kavanagh QC writer Peter Moffat and one of the stars of his BAFTA-winning series Criminal Justice, Maxine Peake, BBC One’s sleek new legal drama is clearly aiming high as the latest in the channel’s production line of quality courtroom action.
This time round, Peake is on the right side of the law as defence barrister Martha Costello, an idealistic career woman pursuing the coveted title of QC, a prize nicknamed in the profession as ‘silk’. Opposite her is her rival, the self-serving sleazebag lawyer Clive Reader, played slimily by the convincing Rupert Penry-Jones (Spooks), also aiming for the top job. Whilst learning what is needed to climb the career ladder, Martha is also saddled with a young apprentice, naïve law student Nick Slade (Tom Hughes), who will take a lot of teaching to fit in with the court conventions and traditions. Martha embodies the firm idea that everyone must be considered innocent until proven guilty, while Clive does what he feels he has to in order to win the case.
A single 37 year-old with all the blunt abrasiveness you might expect of a successful law practitioner, Martha is the epitome of that old dramatic staple: the strong woman with a vulnerable side trying to find her way in a traditionally masculine world. Still, where Peake marks Martha out as spectacular is in her show-stopping court theatrics, where she exhibits the titular ‘silk’ in deftly convincing a jury through unlikely means to confound her sexist peers. It’s not all legal flair though; as always, former barrister Moffat weaves a strong moral fibre into his tales, lending a certain heart to potentially clinical proceedings.
This first episode shows Martha accompanying two defendants: one is a single mother accused of being a drugs mule, the other a violent offender with a long list of previous convictions. The plot twists and turns dazzle and probe past first appearances effectively, as Moffat skillfully asks the viewer to question their own assumptions without bludgeoning them with an almighty moral thump.
A stylish first outing, not to mention subtly challenging, Silk offers a solid slice of mid-week legal showboating.
Airs at 9pm on Tuesday 22nd February 2011 on BBC One.