Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Escape Artist - BBC 1 TV review

The Escape Artist, which began on BBC 1 tonight, was always likely to appeal to me. A three-part thriller with a barrister as the main character, and David Tennant (fresh from the excellent Broadchurch) cast in the lead role, what could possibly go wrong? What is more, the script is by the highly regarded David Wolstencroft. So I sat down to watch with high expectations.

Of course, the TV legal thriller is fraught with pitfalls. Most lawyers, I think it's fair to say, are deeply unconvinced by the majority of lawyers who appear on the screen - I suppose police officers know that feeling all too well. It's not easy to strike a balance between credibility and good entertainment. Years ago, I recall a series about an employment lawyer which rejoiced in the name Fish. The verdict in the Liverpool employment tribunal the following day was damning, I'm afraid.

On the whole, the better shows have tended to showcase barristers rather than solicitors - I'm sure this is because of the lure of courtroom drama rather than because solicitors are less interesting people! (And Kinsey and The Main Chance were among the notable exceptions to the general rule.) At one time, I thought the two legal professions would one day merge - quite a widely held view - but now I'm less sure. The criminal Bar is suffering because of cuts in legal aid, yet many solicitors' firms have run into difficulty too. But a show dealing with the realities of legal life at a time of economic difficulty would hardly be a ratings winner, and here, as usual on telly, the lawyers (including Roy Marsden, playing a veteran solicitor in his customary suave manner) are all rich and mostly on the top of their game.

Tennant plays Will Burton, a lawyer so good at getting his clients off that he is known as the Escape Artist. He is a good husband and father (except for his horrible habit of shouting from the touchline when his son plays football) and he never loses a case, which must make him unique. When an apparent sociopath (spookily played by the excellent Toby Kebbel) hires hiim when he needs a good defence to a charge of a very gruesome murder, Will wins again, after one or two rather improbable moments in court. But Will and his client haven't bonded, and Bad Things start to happen.

This was a very striking start to the story, and I was gripped from start to finish. Tennant is a great actor, but the supporting cast was also very, very good. Episode two is a must-watch for me.

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