While it's a little slow paced at times, historical courtroom drama Garrow's Law: Series One packs enough pathos and drama to more than make up for it. The ripped from two hundred year old headlines stories are based on real people and real cases from England's history, and all the more compelling for it.
Andrew Buchan stars as William Garrow, an intemperate and idealistic young barrister, who is determined to change the way that trials are conducted. He gets his first big courtroom win with the help of his mentor, attorney Mr. Southouse (Alun Armstrong) and the patronage of the lovely, but married, Lady Sarah Hill (Lyndsey Marshal). Garrow doesn't like the stifling rules of the British courts, for instance that the defense cannot address the jury directly, nor the way that everything seems tilted in favor of the prosecution. His unorthodox ways and constant testing of boundaries gains him some enemies, and not a few admirers. His primary nemeses are fellow barrister Silvester (Aidan McArdle), often on the other side in court, crotchety Judge Buller (Michael Culkin) and Lady Sarah's husband, Lord Hill (Rupert Graves). Lord Hill does not share his wife's passion for judicial reform, and begins to form an intense dislike for Garrow, even as his wife does just the opposite.
Garrow stumbles as much as he succeeds while learning the ropes in his budding legal career. He loses a few cases, and defends a few less than savory men. He even gets wounded in a duel. The series is as much as about Garrow's growth as a man and a barrister as it is about the courtroom drama. He is often torn between his reckless enthusiasm, his arrogance and the strict rules of decorum, in the courts and the world in general. He chafes against etiquette and rebels against the corruption of the age. He is a man of utmost principle, but often sabotages himself and his relationships. In other words, this is a realistic portrait of believable man, anchored in reality.
The performances are probably the highlight of Garrow's Law, with Buchan and Armstrong and Marshal really shining in their roles, and everyone pulling their weight from the extras in the background to the minor players. The costumes and sets are also quite impressive, effortlessly pulling the viewer into the period and setting the stage. The stories do tend to drag at points, and the plotlines not centered in the court don't have the driving energy and excitement of the trial scenes, but Garrow closing in on a hostile witness in the box and driving home his point is enjoyable enough that one forgets the dullness a few minutes before. Buchan positively crackles during his cross examinations, and the audience soaks up his enthusiasm. The moral quandaries and his halting and timid romance with Lady Sarah are fine, but they pale in comparison, and mostly act as smooth transitions around the real focus of the trials. Of course, being based on real people and events is somewhat limiting, and the producers really do decent job of moving things along.
Series One consists of four hour long episodes on two discs. Summaries of the episodes, as provided on the discs, are below:
An inexperienced William Garrow struggles with his first case but fares better with Lady Sarah Hill. Impressed by his sense of justice, she hires Garrow to defend a serving girl accused of murder. If he doesn't succeed the woman will die.
Now a celebrated barrister, Garrow defends a coachman accused of stealing a harness. Next, he reluctantly agrees to represent the infamous Monster, a man accused of attacking women across London. As his popularity wanes, his friendship with Lady Sarah grows.
When Garrow defends a man on trial for raping his maid, Lady Sarah is disappointed. Then Garrow fights a duel with one nemesis and takes revenge on another, causing Southouse to question whether they can continue to work together.
Garrow represents a prostitute accused of murdering her client; he also reunites with Southouse for a high profile treason case. Matters take a turn when Lady Sarah discovers crucial information.
Despite the occasional slowness, Garrow's Law: Series One is a superior courtroom drama. The Georgian England setting only adds to the interest, and makes for quite beautiful settings upon which to feast the eyes as well. Recommended.
The video is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and generally looks good, despite the persistent graininess. The background colors are muted, but this allows the costumes and characters to pop out quite nicely.
The audio is in Dolby digital 2 channel, and does the job, which doesn't require anything spectacular. The dialogue is always clearly audible, and no hiss or other problem can be heard. English subtitles are included, but no alternate language tracks.
There are a few extras included, though nothing terribly substantial. They are:
Behind the Scenes Featurette
At just under nineteen minutes, this features interviews with Dominic Barlow the producer, numerous members of the crew, and actors Alun Armstrong, Aidan McArdle, Lyndsey Marshal and Andrew Buchan. Lots of discussion of the challenges to period pieces, and some insights into the process of making the show. This is actually quite interesting.
William Garrow Biography
This is a short text biography of William Garrow. Interesting, but slight.
About three minutes of publicity stills and behind the scenes shots.
Exactly what it sounds like, filmographies for all of the main cast members.
At the beginning of disc one, trailers are included for Acorn mysteries and dramas in general, as well as for Murdoch Mysteries and Trial and Retribution.
Garrow's Law: Series One has a few flaws, but these are minor and easily overlooked considering its many points of quality. Those points are mostly the very engaging trial sequences, all based on actual cases, in which the interaction between Garrow, opposing counsel Silvester and Judge Buller is enjoyable enough to draw the viewer in and keep him watching. The delightful period costumes and sets are just icing on the cake. In short, it's a joy to watch.