Criminal Justice

Last night, the BAFTA for Best Actress was won by Maxine Peake. No question. No-one will out perform Peake’s turn in last night’s Criminal Justice (BBC One).

I tuned in to the show for the first time because, well, I have a little rule that, if Maxine Peake stars in it, I’ll watch it. I’ll watch it at the expense of absolutely anything else because, quite simply, she’s a tremendous actor.

However, as high as my opinion of her was, nothing prepared me for the outstanding performance seen last night. She was sensational!

In show, she starred as the fragile and broken Juliet and conveyed someone profoundly unhappy with her life. She ghosted through a wonderfully directed episode that had me holding my breath for minutes at a time.

All week, we’ll be treated to five hour-long instalments which run nightly until Friday and like ice slowly thawing, it’ll leave you enchanted and gripped. That said, this is not a pretty outing. If last night’s show is anything to go by, we’re all in store for an incredibly powerful drama that is stifling and at times, clawing with a suffocating feeling that will leave you prostrate on the floor and gasping for air.

Whilst Peake’s astonishing performance stole the show, the rest of the cast also put in worthy performances. Husband Joe (Matthew Macfadyen) is had created a sterile home with everything in place and controlled to the millimetre. The sequence that saw him packing away his powdered wig and placing orange peel in his shoes allowed us to peer into the world of someone whose life is marked by inches and seconds.

A flash of violence and one stabbing later, we see this depressed airport lounge erupt into a tumultuous world of tears, blood and wrenched hearts. The eerie stillness fractured into a chaotic and oppressive 30 minutes that saw this writer staggered.

If this show continues in the same fashion (rumour has it that it’s going to get better) then I have absolutely no doubt that this will bag a BAFTA… and rightly so. Preposterously good television.

Denis Lawson plays cerebral detective DCI Faber

The ever versatile Lawson, last seen as Professor Fleming in BBC Four’s Breaking The Mould returns to BBC One, with an equally considered and measured performance as the cerebral DCI Faber, the senior police officer who leads the investigation into the attempted murder of Joe Miller, QC, by his wife, Juliet.

Audiences that fondly remember Denis Lawson’s performance as John Jarndyce in Dicken’s look at the tortuous processes of the law in Bleak House, will be pleased to hear that it was Peter Moffat’s, “exceptional scripts” that brought Denis Lawson back to a drama that takes a hard look at the intricacies of the law and the human cost to those that find themselves caught up in it.

“I think that fact that Peter was a practising barrister means there’s a tremendous amount of detail in his scripts and you feel his portrayal of our criminal justice system is absolutely accurate.

“Peter’s direct experience of the law gives his storytelling tremendous vigour and a compelling bedrock of authenticity, says Denis.

And, although the comparison doesn’t quite fit, says Lawson: “Peter’s writing reminds me of Dickens in so much as every single character in his narrative is really interestingly drawn and gives a different perspective on the events as they unravel. This brilliance in Peter’s writing adds to the realism and richness of tone and totally emotionally hooks you into Criminal Justice.

Denis relished playing Faber and describes him as totally committed detective with some 30 years of experience behind him, including abuse cases.

“He’s a really objective man and a consummate professional.

“Faber is the exact opposite of Sexton, his DI, who goes at the case in a much more emotional way and knee jerk way.

“Faber’s approach is quiet but totally focused. He’s interested in the context in which things happen. He concentrates on every aspect of information that comes his way – Faber’s a detail man. He’s a great observer. He misses nothing. It’s almost like Zen and the art of policing,” half jokes Denis, stressing he’s not trying to be glib about the intense nature of the drama or his character.

“Faber never looks away; he’s always watching, concentrating and thinking. Seeing what makes people tick, what makes them do what they do.

“There’s a scene when Faber is listening intently to what Doctor Rose has to say and he knows it’s significant.

“Yann Demange, our director, gave me a great note, ‘Don’t nod’.

“It sums Faber up. He’d be still and watch – he’s an incredibly subtle man capable of forensic concentration. I’ve kept my performance very spare and minimal.

“I played Faber as being out on a limb and slightly inscrutable; but always a man of deep understanding.

“An example of his insight into human behaviour and the processes of the law is at the end of episode one,” says Denis.

“Following Juliet’s confession to stabbing her husband, Faber asks the salient question: ‘Did anyone ask her why she did it?’ “

“Throughout the drama we see Faber’s a realist. He knows it’s his team’s job to gather evidence for the prosecution case, present it and then let go – others decide the final outcome.”

Then, with great subtly and without a hint of what may happen to Juliet, Denis says that Criminal Justice did get him thinking about the law governing provocation and cryptically says: “Let’s just say that from the little I know about French law I think the outcome could have been different if Juliet’s case was tried in France.”

Denis can shortly be X seen on BBC Four playing Enid Blyton’s second husband, Kenneth Darrell Waters, in Enid, co-starring with Helena Bonham Carter in the title role and Matthew MacFadyen playing Enid’s first husband.

Sophie Okonedo plays passionately committed solicitor, Jack Woolf, who needs her fragile client, Juliet, to start talking to her otherwise how can Jack defend her?

Sophie Okonedo is an actress not afraid to tackle challenging and interesting projects. In 2004 she was nominated for an Oscar as the best supporting actress in the acclaimed Hotel Rwanda, and was nominated for a Golden Globe for best leading actress in Tsunami: The Aftermath.

So what attracted her to her latest role of Jack Woolf in Criminal Justice for BBC One?

“Jack thinks outside the box,” is her empathic answer.

“And, I thought Peter’s scripts were extraordinarily well written: subtle and never obvious. He doesn’t spell anything out and doesn’t talk down to the audience. Before you know it he’s taken you right into the emotional drive of the story and opened up the law in action for everyone to see.

“I don’t know what lawyers are like in real life but I wanted to take Jack away from the way I’ve seen them portrayed on television, straight and constrained in a suit. I loved the lively way Peter had written Jack.

“She’s passionate, anarchic and has a real edge to her. She’s street-wise and not part of the establishment, if there’s such a thing.

“She is strong and can take care of herself. You’d want her on your side!

“When Jack first meets Juliet in police custody, she knows there’s more behind why this seriously traumatised woman has shut down and isn’t talking.

“Jack recognises signs of abuse in Juliet but needs to know what’s been happening to her client in order to build a defence and instruct their barrister, Anna, who has doubts about whether provocation can be used as a defence in Juliet’s case.

Sophie explains the seemingly intractable problem Jack has with her client, who is in an increasingly desperate situation.

“Jack’s frustration and real fear is that she won’t be able to draw Juliet out of herself and get to the truth. Without this co-operation Jack can’t fight Juliet’s case. Juliet’s very survival depends on it and prison is a terrifying place to be.

“Jack is totally focused on getting Juliet off, but her client’s in complete despair: worried about her husband, and desperate to see her daughter, Ella.

“The big question is whether Jack can succeed. And, can there ever be a truly happy outcome?”

Did working on such an intense project give Sophie sleepless nights?

“Not for a minute,” says Sophie. “I really looked forward to going to work; it was like having a shot of adrenalin.

“Jack’s not a victim, she’s a fighter trying to get justice for Juliet who desperately needs help. That’s a really positive role to play.

“Maxine and everyone were terrific to work with and I had two days quizzing Peter about the story and he briefed me on how the law works. But I didn’t get too bogged down in detail though!

“I was interested in bringing Jack’s passion to screen, making her watchable and entertaining. I just went for it and tried to push my performance as far as I could,” an intelligent and pragmatic response and one that no doubt Jack would approve of.

BBC viewers can next see Sophie playing Winnie Mandela in Mrs Mandela, a one-off, fact-based film about the controversial former wife of Nelson Mandela.

Filmed in South Africa, Mrs Mandela co-stars David Harewood as Nelson Mandela and David Morrissey as the notorious police interrogator, Theunis Swanepoel.

It will be shown on BBC Four and BBC Two next year.

Matthew Macfadyen gives a commanding performance as Joe Miller, a QC at the height of his professional powers.

Macfadyen, one of Britain’s leading actors, returns to BBC One for the first time since his acclaimed performance as Arthur Clennam in last year’s adaptation of of the Dicken’s classic, Little Dorrit.

With a repertoire of roles as diverse as Austen’s heart-throb Mr Darcy on the big screen, to his award-winning television performance as a paedophile in Secret Life, what attracted Matthew to taking on successful criminal barrister, Joe Miller?

As a rule of thumb, says Matthew: “I always go on the quality of a script and Criminal Justice was fantastic, a really intriguing, if disturbing, page turner. It grips you and you have to know what happens next.

“I’ve been a great admirer of Peter Moffat’s work for ages and remember how brilliant his legal drama North Square was. My wife, Keeley, starred opposite James McAvoy in Peter’s really witty and clever take on Macbeth, which the BBC screened xxx a few years ago; so I’m thrilled to be in something he’s written.

“Ambiguity is at the heart of Peter’s writing and at first Joe Miller comes over as a real hero, a good family man. He’s a meticulous and dedicated barrister, who specialises in criminal prosecutions and is training to run a marathon to raise money for charity.

“But perhaps all is not what it seems. What’s obvious is that Joe has a brilliant lawyerly, academic mind and he’s very careful and organised.

“When he puts away his courtroom wig there’s a sort of ritual attached to the way he does it. But then we all have idiosyncrasies like a favourite chair or sleeping on a particular side of the bed.

“Joe logs all his running times and distances, but this could be a kind of security for him as it soon becomes apparent that he has a very isolated and fragile wife at home and their relationship is strained. There’s something not quite right between husband and wife.

“Once we see Joe at home we witness him checking up on his wife in a slightly paranoid way – the indications are that that she’s having an affair and I’m not going to say whether he’s right. Maybe he’s spending too much time in the courtroom trying guilty villains!”

To prepare for his role Matthew enjoyed meeting and talking to Criminal Justice writer, Peter, a former barrister.

“I also went along the Royal Courts of Justice to see the nuts and bolts of British law in action and I can tell you,” laughs Matthew, “that it’s nothing like those John Grisham movies!

“I spoke to several lawyers and a female QC. My overriding impression was how hard they work and how individual everyone is. There isn’t a stock-type solicitor anymore than there’s an off-the-peg barrister or a particular breed of legal advisor.

“This experience confirmed what I thought about Peter’s scripts that they are really true to life. All his characters are carefully drawn individuals whether they are caught up in the criminal justice system or work for it.

Did Matthew take an equally conscientious approach to his running scenes?

“Well I did run the London Marathon this April. Very slowly mind you. I’m not a runner,” underlines Matthew.

“I’ve no idea really what my time was…probably about 4 hours and 45 minutes. I’m not in Joe’s league, nor do I want to be.

“But, the occasion was great fun and I ran with my mates, who got me round if I’m honest. Afterwards I felt brilliant.”

Summing up his Criminal Justice experience Matthew says how much he enjoyed making the drama and working again with Maxine: “I’ve known Maxine for years. We were in Little Dorrit last year, and a while ago had parts in the BBC’s The Way We Live Now, Andrew Davies adaptation of Trollope’s satirical novel.

“Maxine’s brilliant as Juliet and I’m glad she’s got the role. Peter writes women so well and I think Juliet’s journey is going to make riveting television.”

Matthew can next been seen on BBC Four’s eagerly anticipated Enid, opposite Helena Bonham Carter in the title role. Matthew plays Hugh Pollock, Blyton’s publisher and first husband.

Matthew is currently working in Hungary filming Pillars Of The Earth, an adaptation of Ken Follett’s sweeping tale of love, war and strife in 12th century England, in which he plays a monk, Prior Philip. His co-stars include Ian McShane, Donald Sutherland and Rufus Sewell.

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.”

Peter Moffat’s BAFTA Award-winning Criminal Justice returns to BBC One for five consecutive nights and stars Maxine Peake as a mother in desperate trouble.

Maxine Peake (Hancock And Joan, Red Riding) stars as Juliet Miller in this major new five-part thriller which takes an uncompromising and insightful look at our criminal justice system, but this time through the journey of one woman. Criminal Justice is made by BBC Drama Production for BBC One.

Peake leads an impressive cast that boasts some of Britain’s top acting talent including Matthew Macfadyen (Enid, Little Dorrit), Sophie Okonedo (Mrs Mandela, Tsunami: The Aftermath), Denis Lawson (Enid, Bleak House), Steven MacKintosh (England Expects), Eddie Marsan (39 Steps, Little Dorrit), Zoe Telford (Match Point) and Kate Hardie (Safe).

Joe Miller (Matthew MacFadyen) is a barrister at the height of his professional powers. He is married to Juliet (Maxine Peake) who is fragile and isolated at home. They have one daughter, 13-year-old Ella (Alice Sykes).

One night Juliet stabs Joe in his bed. Life will never be the same again for the Miller family.

As fragile mother Juliet travels through the criminal justice system under the constant scrutiny of police, prison and social services, questions of psychological and sexual abuse are raised. Her case passes through the family courts and she concludes her ordeal in a tense finale in the Crown Court.

Other cast include: Denis Lawson as the cerebral DCI Faber; Steven Mackintosh as DI Sexton, who believes he sees an open and shut case; Eddie Marsan Joe Miller’s ever loyal clerk; Sophie Okonedo as Jack, Juliet’s committed duty solicitor, and Zoe Telford as her defence barrister, Anna Klein.

Criminal Justice shot earlier this year on locations in and around London and was directed by Yann Demange (episodes 1–3) and Marc Jobst (episodes 4–5) and produced by Steve Lightfoot.

Criminal Justice reunites writer Peter Moffat with BBC executive producer Hilary Salmon.

Writer Peter Moffat, says: “When I finished writing the first Criminal Justice my strongest feeling was that there was an awful lot more to say about the criminal justice system – but I wanted to find a different approach.

“My wife used to be a family law barrister. Her practice involved a lot of work involving children being taken into care and damaged women with children. I have always been struck by the fact that the world of family law is hidden, secret and consequently misunderstood.

“What my wife and the people she worked with were telling me didn’t accord with public perception. It occurred to me that writing a second Criminal Justice with a woman as the main character and the family courts alongside the criminal courts would make for impactful drama and a fresh way of looking at the system.

“Criminal Justice has a unique point of view. The central character is in most scenes; the process she is going through – crime, police station, courts, prison – is all seen from her perspective. This is because as far as possible I want the audience to share her experience. I think the power of television is through its intimacy – staying right in close with a woman going through what Juliet (Maxine Peake) goes through for five straight hours of television drama is the most effective way of harnessing that power.

“I think we as a society should be judged by the standards of our criminal justice system. There’s a lot that is good about our system and a lot that is bad. I have talked to so many police officers, prisoners, prison officers, prison governors, social workers, psychiatrists, lawyers and judges – and the thing they all share is strength of feeling about the workings of the system they are a part of. They care deeply about the rights and wrongs. I hope that Criminal Justice can help bring that strength of feeling out into the open and make it part of a bigger conversation.”

The first Criminal Justice broadcast in June 2008 to great acclaim and has since won the prestigious BAFTA for Best Drama Serial and also gained newcomer, Ben Whishaw the RTS Best Actor award, and a BAFTA nomination, for his portrayal of Ben Coulter.

Maxine Peake (Hancock And Joan, Red Riding) stars as Juliet Miller in this major new five-part thriller which takes an uncompromising and insightful look at our criminal justice system, but this time through the journey of one woman, made by BBC Drama Production for BBC One.

Peake leads an impressive cast that boasts some of Britain’s top acting talent including Matthew Macfadyen (Little Dorrit), Denis Lawson (Bleak House), Steven Mackintosh (England Expects) and Sophie Okonedo (Winnie Mandela, Tsunami: The Aftermath).

Ben Stephenson, Controller, BBC Drama Commissioning, says: “The BAFTA-winning Criminal Justice returns to BBC One with another brilliantly original and bold story by Peter Moffat that takes a completely different crime and reveals the shocking and emotional impact it has on those involved.

“It is a stunning piece of work that shows a writer at the top of his game and has attracted a wonderful director in Yann Demange, and an incredible cast led by the glorious Maxine Peake.”

Joe Miller (Matthew Macfadyen) is a barrister at the height of his professional powers. He is married to Juliet (Maxine Peake) who suffers from depression. They have one daughter, 13-year-old Ella (Alice Sykes).

One night Joe is stabbed in his home. Life will never be the same again for the Miller family.

As fragile Juliet Miller travels through the criminal justice system under the constant scrutiny of police, prison and social services, questions of psychological and sexual abuse are raised.

She passes through the family courts and concludes her ordeal in a heart-rending denouement in the High Court.  

Writer Peter Moffat says: “I feel passionately about our criminal justice system – what’s right about it and what’s wrong with it.

“When I’m asked why I wanted to do another Criminal Justice, the answer is almost embarrassingly simple: there’s so much to say and so many stories to tell.

“I can’t think of more natural territory for drama – moral problems, hard choices, complex ethical dilemmas, forensic exploration of character and, at the centre of everything, the purest form of story: guilty or not guilty?

“It’s a great opportunity as a writer to have five hours of television drama in which to get right underneath the way the system works and what happens to the people inside it. There’s no better medium for this than the small screen.

“Partly because I’m married to a former family law barrister, I have always wanted to write about the family courts. So many life changing decisions taken every day in a world which we know so little about.

“This drama brings together criminal law and family law in the story of a woman profoundly affected by both.”

Other cast members include: Denis Lawson as the visceral DCI Faber; Steven Mackintosh as DI Sexton, who believes he sees an open-and-shut case; and Sophie Okonedo as Jack, the committed and compassionate duty solicitor.

The first Criminal Justice broadcast in June 2008 to great critical acclaim and has since won the prestigious 2009 BAFTA award for Best Drama Serial and also gained newcomer Ben Whishaw the RTS Best Actor award, and a BAFTA nomination, for his portrayal of Ben Coulter.

Criminal Justice II reunites writer Peter Moffat with BBC Executive Producer Hilary Salmon.

She says: “When you get scripts as compelling and insightful as Peter Moffat’s first series of Criminal Justice you grab them gratefully, knowing that you might never get scripts as good as these again.

“It’s awesome to then be able to say that Peter’s written another journey through the system that’s just as powerful, just as revelatory and possibly more heart-breaking than the first.”

Criminal Justice II starts filming in and around London this month and is produced by Steve Lightfoot (House Of Saddam, Sorted). The first three episodes will directed by Yann Demange (Dead Set, Secret Diary Of A Call Girl).

BBC Drama Production is a world leader in producing much-loved and critically-acclaimed dramas including recent productions: All The Small Things, The 39 Steps, A Short Stay In Switzerland, Little Dorrit, Waking The Dead and Silent Witness on BBC One; House Of Saddam and Moses Jones on BBC Two.

Forthcoming dramas include: Desperate Romantics on BBC Two, Breaking The Mould on BBC Four and Emma, Cranford Christmas, Survivors 2 and Lark Rise To Candleford 3 all for BBC One.

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