Criminal Justice: Maxine Peake plays Juliet Miller

Maxine Peake stars as Juliet Miller, a mother in desperate trouble.

Maxine Peake has established a reputation as a very fine actress indeed. Her roles embrace women as diverse as the lovable Veronica in Shameless, to one of the most notorious child killers in recent history Myra Hindley in See No Evil: The Moors Murderers as well as Tony Hancock’s long suffering wife in BBC Four’s acclaimed Hancock And Joan and Miss Wade in BBC One’s Dicken’s classic, Little Dorrit.

Mostly recently she appeared as Madeleine in the acclaimed series The Street on BBC One, but can soon be seen in possibly her most taxing leading role to date as Juliet Miller, a wife and mother charged with the attempted murder of her husband, Joe.

Maxine is enthusiastic about playing Juliet, whose story will dominate BBC One for five consecutive nights this autumn.

“I read Peter’s scripts and was hooked,” says Maxine.

“I thought I really want to play Juliet. This part is amazing – it’s a totally female-driven story written by a really intelligent and insightful man. Last year’s Criminal Justice was brilliant and well deserved its BAFTA.

“Criminal Justice is definitely television for grown ups and a really hard watch at times and Juliet’s story shocked me at times. We don’t often see what happens to women or their children when mothers are locked up.

“The scripts showed me my ignorance about the law, but like so often in life until something directly effects us we don’t think about it.

“I also find that the fact that Criminal Justice is such a complicated crime story really appealing. It’s full of ambiguity. Nothing is black or white, good or bad and that’s what I found completely compelling and very realistic.

“I hope that viewers will be engrossed in Juliet’s journey, but also not be quite sure about her, especially in the beginning.

“But what’s clear from the start is she’s a troubled woman. Outwardly she seems to have the perfect life: a lovely daughter, Ella, a beautiful home and a successful apparently adoring husband, but something’s very wrong. Why is she on anti-depressants?

“She’s a real challenge to act because she’s a complicated, damaged woman.

“Once her husband is stabbed she’s in very deep water. The big questions which the police and her lawyers are struggling with are: is Juliet capable of a cold-blooded attempted murder, or is she a desperate woman, committing a desperate act of self preservation?

“Her solicitor, Jack, suspects that Juliet is an abused woman who is depressed because her husband’s a controlling bully capable of physical and emotional abuse. But evidence is needed.

“And, Juliet’s not talking. She’s traumatised and has completely withdrawn into herself and although she seems matter-of-fact on the surface, that’s not what’s going on inside.

“What ever way you see Juliet what’s clear is she’s a trapped mother caught up in the prison system and separated from the daughter she’d lay her life down for, Ella. It’s a terrifying situation. I’m not a mum but can imagine Juliet’s agony, the bond between mother and child has to be like no other.”

Criminal Justice shot solidly this summer for three months. So did such an intensive shoot, and playing a woman whose life is under forensic scrutiny, while she’s locked up in an alien, frightening environment give Maxine nightmares?

“To be quite honest,” says Maxine, “I’ve played tough roles before and at times it felt pretty relentless, but I just went home, cooked my food and went to bed exhausted. I went out like a light.

“And, while it sounds odd we did enjoy making Criminal Justice, it’s a groundbreaking story which we were committed to telling, and there was a really strong team spirit. For me it was a very happy job, even though I’m glad to stop now and chill.”

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