Criminal Justice, BBC1

Did we like it?
The contrived, lame plot surrounding the crime had us feeling that this was going to be a big opportunity missed. But once the investigation started and central character Ben started his journey through the criminal justice system, it cracked into life, taking us into an uneasy, frightening world.

What was good about it?

• Not a dud performance in sight. Ben Whishaw as Ben Coulter shone as the shy boy with a sweet smile, emaciated body and a nervous tic. Maybe he did kill Melanie after picking her up in his dad’s taxi, eating ice creams on Southend beach and downing Ecstacy and tequila shots. But we’re convinced he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He even parked to take a mobile phone call – that’s how law abiding he is.
• Bill Paterson’s Det Supt Harry Box. Is he a good cop or a bad cap? Whichever way that pedulum swings, he’s a wonderfully intriguing cop.
• Eat your heart out, Timothy Spall. There’s a new kid on the block. We couldn’t take our eyes off Con O’Neill as shambling, shabby lawyer Ralph Stone with dandruff on his shouldlers, exzema on his feet and a weary regard for the legal system. “They come up with their story. We come up with ours. The jury gets to decide which story they like best. The best story wins,” he tells his distraught client who is desperate to be frank.
• It’s a very ambitious series, exploring every area of the criminal justice system using strong, believable characters and without resorting to easy clichés or high drama. After just one episode, we knew we were off on a terrible helterskelter ride – but had been given no signals at all about where it would end.
• Writer Peter Moffatt has enough craft to ensure the comic moment with transvestite dangerous driver Pauline didn’t jar amid the bleakness. “What gear were you in?” “Basically, the same as I’m in now… It’s Dolce and Gabbana.”
• Charlie Creed-MIles turning up as Ticehurst the slick barrister who tells the judge he has spent “quality time” with his client, “looked into his eyes, and seen his determination to prove his innocence”. He barely shook his hand before making a swift exit from the court’s scary holding cell.

What was bad about it?
• Until Ben was arrested, the plot was reckless, especially when Melanie appeared on the scene, jumping in the cab and coming over all mysterious, smoking in the petrol station, doing a runner from the ice cream man and playing a game of dare involving a kitchen knife and splayed fingers. Fortunately, that was an abberation and a memorable drama emerged.
• But not before some over-the-top panic on Ben’s part, slapping bloody hand prints all over the house.

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