Silk: There’s a new Q.C. in town

by | May 16, 2012 | All, Reviews

Where Whitechapel has police investigations and Silent Witness has Pathology, Silk has barristers at the top of their game battling against criminals, the law and sometimes each other.

If criminal and legal dramas are your thing you’ll love the second series of the BBC’s hard-hitting drama, Silk. On the other hand, if you’ve never watched a crime drama in your life, make this your first. You won’t be disappointed.

This law show on BBC One has sucked me in. I was meant to change the Channel” one viewer tweets.

This view is hardly surprising when the BBC has managed to cram all the tension, courtroom jargon, and moral dilemmas of the previous series into the opening five minutes of its intriguing courtroom drama. Having said that, one shouldn’t really pigeon hole Silk as a courtroom drama, since a lot of the plot occurs outside the courtroom and within the confines of the chambers inhabited by our main characters.

Maxine Peake slips effortlessly back into the role.

Maxine Peake returns, somewhat triumphantly, as barrister Martha Costello, whose recent, successful Silk application has earned her the coveted position of Queen’s Counsel along with a new name plaque outside chambers. If you followed the first series, you’ll know all about Martha’s insatiable desire for justice, passion for her job and deeply charismatic character. You’ll also be glad to know that second time round Maxine Peake has fallen elegantly back into the role and is as confident and perceptive as ever.

Resident ladies’ man Clive Reader (Rupert Penry-Jones) rides, more boyishly than gallantly, into chambers on his new motorbike, sporting a leather jacket several decades too young for his 38-year old self, causing his colleagues to muse over a possible mid-life crisis. Unfortunately for Clive he arrives just in time to see his name being slid down the plaque to make way for Martha’s new title.

Cue many jealous stares, uncomfortable silences and malicious remarks. Or so you might think. However, one of the most refreshing things about this episode (and hopefully the rest of the series) is the development of Martha and Clive’s relationship. You begin to get a real sense of the trust in their friendship. It feels as though Clive’s character has evolved and matured since series one, as he tells Martha, “you look terrific”  in a sincere and thoughtful manner.  So it’s almost a relief when he follows up his comment with, “vintage lesbian; it’s a good look for you Martha”. Back to the sarcastic Clive we know and love.

In fact the whole episode is filled with laugh-out-loud moments; something you might not expect from a drama based on the British legal system, including a trial where the defendant is accused of gauging out a man’s eyes. Oh sorry, did I forget to say? Aside from all the job promotions and hilarious one-liners, there is actually a gritty plotline and some highly credible courtroom performances.

Billy is back on top.

As well as the return of the chambers’ two best barristers, viewers can look forward to the reappearance of the brilliant Neil Stuke as Senior Clerk, Billy, as well as bumbling South London lad Jake (Theo Barklem-Biggs) and quietly efficient John played by John MacMillan. It appears the whole ‘family’, as Billy puts it, is back together again. Almost.

For it seems that that Shoe Lane Chambers have not decided to keep pupils Niamh and Nick on the payroll. A shame, as their character relationships and legal innocence helped drive much of the plot in the first series. But before the viewer has much chance to lament over absent faces, in saunters solicitor Mickey Joy played by the ever compelling Phil Davis (Whitechapel) followed later on in the episode by the ‘vicious’ Q.C. (her words not mine) CW (Frances Barber) known worryingly as Lady Macbeth by her peers.

With a cast of this quality it’s hard to be anything other than completely captivated by some seriously brilliant performances. Particular highlights include Jake’s nervous chatter about the chambers loo-roll consumption to new, attractive Junior Clerk, Beth, Martha’s cigarette out the window (to avoid being arrested for ‘passive manslaughter’) of the robing room at court with Lady Macbeth and Clive’s slip of the tongue when asking a female solicitor for a drink; “Do you want to go for a quick a f**k? Drink! Jesus, sorry.”

Clearly praise should go also to the wonderful script of Peter Moffat. Moffat was a barrister before becoming a writer and he writes so truthfully about the world. This opening episode struck a perfect balance between personal and ethical predicaments, courtroom revelations and sharp, witty comedy showing this British drama to be one of the best on television.

And whilst at first it may seem that those of us without a degree in law might struggle to understand what on earth is going on, with terms such as ‘court mentions’ and ‘duress’ being thrown around willy nilly, this is certainly not the case. The refreshing thing about Silk is the relative simplicity of the plot. Much of the focus is on the inner workings of the chambers themselves and the characters’ interactions within their set; the competitiveness, the jealousy, the compassion and the sheer organisation of the whole thing.

So if you’re curious to find out how watching a bunch of narcissistic, competitive barristers squabble and bicker their way through the British legal system can make for compelling drama, turn your tellys to BBC1 at 9pm next Tuesday. And catch up on episode one if you missed it on BBC iPlayer now.

  • Early ratings show Silk made a strong return with 5.63million viewers. 

Silk Continues Tuesday’s at 9.00pm on BBC1

Contributed by Vicki Greenfield Follow Vicki on Twitter

Read our Interview with Neil Stuke

Buy Series One on DVD

Vicki Greenfield

Vicki Greenfield



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