Legal dramas have been hitting the airwaves ever since that dreaded television contraption became a fairly-common household object in the ‘50s. Throughout the decades, worshippers of the boob tube have bore witness to many sordid, torrid and horrid tales born from the very excesses of the human race — adapted for audiences around the world by some of the most skilled (and sometimes, not-so-skilled) writers available, and hand-delivered by some of the most proficient (and again, not-so-proficient) actors and actresses the networks could afford. In fact, these shows have been gripping families with stories ranging from the lawful to the just plain awful that it’s feasible for a regular courtroom drama admirer to be slightly versed in the fashion of our present legal system.
Ah, but what about the legal system of the past? In late 2009, the folks at the BBC began to broadcast a courtroom drama of another color. The four-episode series, Garrow’s Law, was based on several actual trials (and tribulations) of 18th Century barrister William Garrow. Much like James Spader’s unprincipled behavior altered many a hearing on the far-less-serious American dramedy Boston Legal, the real-life William Garrow forever changed the entire course for many legal systems via several major landmarks. One such milestone was the introduction of the phrase, “innocent until proven guilty” (remember that one?).
Garrow’s Law: Series 1 begins with Mr. Garrow (played by Andrew Buchan, who sort of looks like the lovechild of Alec Baldwin and Michael McKean) urging his mentor/employer, John Southouse (Alun Armstrong), to let him tackle his first case. Although the outcome is far from perfect for all involved (the client is sentenced to death), Garrow does succeed in catching the attention of everyone in the courtroom, from the presiding judge (Michael Culkin) to the fellow barrister (Aidan McArdle) who grows to become Garrow’s main rival on the floor. He also captures the eye (and fancy) of the beautiful Lady Hill (Lyndsey Marshal), whose husband (the great Rupert Graves) is a prominent politician.
Several highlights from the premiere series of Garrow’s Law also finds out titular hero matching wits against a brutal and corrupt thief-taker (Steven Waddington) and encounters how truly sleazy the government can be when they unjustly attempt to sentence and execute citizens in favor of electoral reform. He even challenges his own courtroom rival to a pistol duel, while still finding time to defend the innocent and attempting to win over the love of Lady Hill — much to his mentor’s extreme displeasure.
Rarely does a television series (British or otherwise) pull on your hamstrings and suck you in like Garrow’s Law does. The stories and performances are all very wonderfully executed indeed — and the show does a compelling job of taking its viewers back to the odor-infested world of 18th Century London via some magnificent costuming and sets.
Acorn Media brings us Garrow’s Law: Series 1 to DVD in a 2-Disc set, with two episodes housed on each disc. The show is presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio, which is rather grainy, somewhat muted, and uses a lot of natural-looking lighting (one can only assume that the show’s video appearance is intended to further “transport” you back to the time period). The Dolby Digital 2-Channel Stereo sound delivers the show’s well-written (and often quite humorous) dialogue in an adequate manner, and optional English subtitles are included in case some of you still don’t understand what’s being said.
A couple of Special Features are housed on Disc 2. They begin with a “Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (18:36),” which interviews select members of the cast and crew; and a Photo Gallery (3:04). Several text-only extras are also included: one for William Garrow biography, and six others for the show’s main cast.
To sum it all up, m’lud: if you love courtroom drama, Garrow’s Law: Series 1 is an excellent way to see how our current legal system came to pass.