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DVD Review: Judge John Deed: Season 6

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There are some actors whom you grow so accustomed to seeing in a particular role that it becomes hard to visualize them playing anything else. When you eventually see them in another part you end up spending a lot of time trying to see if they’ve managed to create a different character for this new situation. In far too many cases these days, film and TV actors simply play variations of themselves when on screen and don’t bother with such mundane things as creating a character. Sure they may be able to cry or be angry on demand, but they’re doing it as themselves not as the person whom they’re supposedly portraying. So when I sat down to watch the DVD of Judge John Deed: Season 6 from BBC America, released August 14, I have to admit I was initially more concerned with how much of Inspector George Gently I’d see in Martin Shaw’s performance as Deed than the plot of the show.

While Shaw had impressed me with his performances in George Gently, I hadn’t seen him in anything else and had no idea of what he was capable. Thankfully it didn’t take more than about 15 minutes of the first episode for me to have completely forgotten he’d ever been the other character. Everything from his vocal mannerisms to the way he holds himself as Deed is different from what he had done in the other role. What’s even more amazing is how subtle all the differences are. It isn’t as if he assumed an accent, limp, or other immediately obvious trait, it is just that he did a whole bunch of little things differently which, when combined, add up to being a different character.

It is a good thing too, for even more than in George Gently, this series is built around his character. John Deed is a high court judge in England. He is also something of a maverick who has no problems with rocking the boat and ruffling the feathers of his fellow judges. In order to rise to the position of a high court judge in England, or anywhere else for that matter, one has to be a pretty entrenched member of the legal establishment. Usually this means you haven’t made any waves in your previous career as a lawyer. Judges are supposed to be impartial arbitrators who base their decisions upon the letter of the law. However, as we all know, there are plenty of grey areas in the law which allow judges a great deal of latitude when handing down their judgements. Thus it’s almost impossible for a judge’s personal opinions not to play a role in their findings. Why else would the appointment of judges be such a contentious issue in most countries?

As we discover in the two episodes of Judge John Deed: Season 6, “War Crimes” and “Evidence of Harm,” Deed’s reputation for rocking the boat are well known and something of a concern to his political masters. In fact they do their best to try and keep him out of harm’s way by designating him for assignments like being Britain’s representative at an International Tribunal in the Hague. In “War Crimes,” he’s one of three judges hearing a case against a British soldier who has been charged as a war criminal for the killing of Iraqi citizens while on duty. Complicating matters for Deed is the fact that his sort of ex-partner, Jo Mills (Jenny Seagrove), is the soldier’s defence attorney.

For some added spice, we find out Deed has also been targeted for assassination by a radical Islamic organization. Prior to taking the case in the Hague, he was one of three judges hearing the case of a white supremacist charged with hate crimes against Muslims who ended up being acquitted. Ironically, Deed had thought the man guilty, but he was outvoted by the other two judges. As if these factors weren’t enough, Deed also has to deal with the fact that his government is doing everything it can to coerce the British soldier to plead guilty. Of course the more pressure exerted on him to play ball, the more Deed is determined the soldier be given a fair trial. It almost seems the more somebody attempts to steer him in a particular direction, the harder Deed will attempt to go the other way. 

This is reinforced in the season’s second episode, “Bodily Harm.”  This time Mills asks him to look into the reasons why a client of hers was suddenly denied legal aid in a case he was pursuing against a pharmaceutical company. The client, and other soldiers in the British army, were given a vaccine for protection against biochemical weapons. Unfortunately he and quite a few others became seriously ill after receiving the vaccine. When it turns out the judge who ruled on the decision to withdraw the legal aid has connections to the company in question, Deed agrees to attempt to head a review of the findings. ‘Attempt’ being the key word because he finds himself running into serious opposition from his judicial colleagues, the government, and the company in question.

It is the latter he needs to worry about the most. For he soon discovers the fate of the two scientists who first raised the question about a connection between illness and the vaccine.  one has died under mysterious circumstances and the other is too terrified to talk. When Deed’s daughter, who is doing research for him, is robbedand all that’s stolen is her laptop containing her notes, his suspicions increase. What he doesn’t know is that both he and Mills are under full scale surveillance and every word they say to each other about the case–and more personal exchanges–are being recorded by the same people who robbed his daughter. These people have even gone as far as placing a bug on his dog’s collar.

Deed is a man who keeps a boxer’s heavy bag in his office, and we find out the more people try to make him back off, the more he comes out swinging. He takes his role as an arbitrator of justice very seriously. Any attempt to subvert its fair and equal dissemination only increases Deed’s determination to see it carried out properly.

While this show is up to the usual high standards one has come to expect from British television in terms of script and overall quality, the show hinges upon its central character. Thankfully Shaw is up to the challenge. In this, the series’ concluding episodes, we see the many facets of the man. His personal life is complicated due to the fact he has a roving eye, and while his dedication to the ideal of justice is admirable, he also tends to be arrogant and stubborn. While his self assurance might prove initially attractive to some women, the ego accompanying it isn’t quite as appealing.

What’s amazing about Shaw’s performance in the role of Deed is that he’s able to communicate this so easily to the viewers. While it would have been easy to create a character who is simply a white knight charging off to rescue the world, Shaw manages to show how positive character traits can, under certain circumstances or when taken to the extreme, become negatives. While we admire the character of Judge Deed, we also see him for the flawed individual he is, which not only makes him more human, but infinitely more believable. Judge John Deed: Season Six is a good television series made great by the tour de force performance from its lead actor. Watch it and be amazed at what can be done by an actor at the top of his game.

The only thing missing from this disc are bonus features of some kind. It would have been nice to see even the usual making of type of featurette that accompanies these collections. However, don’t let that hold you back from buying it, its still worth whatever you’re asked to pay for it with or without extras.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
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