The show follows a crime, usually adapted from current headlines, from two separate vantage points. The first half of the show concentrates on the investigation of the crime by the police, the second half follows the prosecution of the crime in court.
Jesse L. Martin,
The series shows the workings of the judicial system, beginning with the arraignment and continuing through the lawyers process of building a case, investigating leads and preparing witnesses and defendants for trial.
Finally released on DVD in April 2009, well worth the long wait too.
Totally compelling TV, numerous short clips in many documentaries over the years gave a small indication of the superior nature of this drama, I can tell you those indication were entirely correct.
Extras include a 25 min film on the making on the series and the effects it had, on TV drama and on the body politic.
This is no mere 'bash the police' work, it's far more complex than that, more of a 'plague on all your houses' for the justice system, prison system and criminal classes too.
The tone, acting dialogue all ring true-the latter within the constraints of the watershed for swearing at the time (though it was still attacked for this and many who saw it thought it was far worse than it actually was).
For me, another stark element of Law And Order is just how Britain, London, looked in the late 1970's. Without the tedious and contrived shots of famous London landmarks-Big Ben, Tower Bridge etc, that are often inserted into shows in assuming an international audience is stupid, the drabness of the streets is so apparent.
I've noticed this too with The Sweeney (Euston Films tended to film outside scenes with as little 'dressing' as possible), the greyness of London suburban high streets, fewer cars-fewer people too, less advertising, drab shops. At night, in Law and Order, the streets look to us now, something like London in the blackout of world war 2, shops nearly all closed in the later afternoon, fewer places to eat out. One suspects that then, the only brightly lit parts of London were Piccadilly Circus and the clubs, sex shops and strip joints of Soho.
This adds to the general atmosphere of Law and Order, a lot is made of detectives, as a matter of routine, taking 'bungs' from recovered stolen money, insurance scams, payoffs from informants. Not to excuse this, but in 1977/8, when this series was made and shown, the police were poorly paid. (One of the first things the Thatcher government did was to change this, there may have been an element of anticipating using them later to bust mass strike action, however it's just as likely that trying to break the practices shown in this series was also a factor).
However, nothing is for nothing, from the early 80's, the laws and procedures concerning interviewing of suspects, evidence, public prosecutions, was radically changed. Whatever your political views, this was an overdue change, given that a few years before, Law and Order had provoked fury amongst many politicians and other parts of the establishment, which then settled into some soul searching, this superb piece of drama, made without excessive controls and constraints, maybe played a small part in this change.
In any case, if you want highly absorbing, gritty, realistic and now with a 30 year hindsight, fascinating historic drama, I cannot recommend G.F. Newman's Law and Order highly enough. Like the adverts for Coca Cola at the time - it's the real thing.
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