Criminal Justice (TV Series 2008–2009) Poster


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excellent miniseries - this review is for Part 1
blanche-230 May 2013
The reviews here are a bit confusing, as several of them seem to be reviewing Part 2, which in America, anyway, is not on Netflix as yet.

Part 1 concerns a young man, Ben Coulter (Ben Whishaw) who one night takes his dad's cab out in order to meet some friends. While the cab is stopped, a young woman named Melanie (Ruth Negga) gets in and wants to go to the seaside. Ben decides on a whim to take her. At the end of the evening, the two wind up at her place and have sex. The next morning, Ben wakes up in the kitchen. He goes upstairs, dresses, and tells Melanie he is going. Then he realizes she's dead and there's blood everywhere. Panicked, he rushes away, only to return to try to get rid of any sign that he was there. He's ultimately picked up, questioned, and later arrested for murder. Ben doesn't remember a darn thing about what happened.

This is a very good miniseries, a little too packed in the last episode, but an excellent indictment of not only the justice system but the prison system, as the frightened Ben endures abuse and bullying from seasoned prisoners. He soon learns that even the guards are run by one prisoner, Freddie Graham, a terrifying man who manages to get everyone in his debt and then forces payback.

Not that outside the prison, things are much better. Ben's father gets him high-prized solicitors who have no interest in Ben and just want to make a deal, and a barrister (Lindsay Duncan) who insists on a self-defense plea. Ben finally goes back to his original attorney, a public defender, a no-nonsense guy (Con O'Neill) who wants Ben to play the courtroom game but wants the truth as well.

Ben's plight and Whishaw's sensitive performance are more than enough to hold interest. What's best about Ben is how he matures from the first to the last episode. Fantastic work. There is one shot of him and Melanie, sitting on the other side of an amusement park, in the dark, looking at the brilliant lights from the rides, two young people, enjoying life with everything in front of them. It's quite sobering.

The rest of the acting is top-notch. Con O'Neill as Stone, the public defender, is wonderful as a streetwise solicitor with a husky voice and a big heart; Lindsay Duncan as a no-nonsense barrister who wants to cut to the chase; Pete Postlethwaite as Hooch, Ben's cell mate, a lifer who is there to protect Ben but has his own turmoil; and Bill Paterson as the gentle-speaking detective, Harry Box. That's only a few, but everyone is marvelous.

The last episode is almost done in shorthand, packing in a ton of information and referring to incidents rather than showing them. And you have to watch and listen closely, or you'll be asking 'what happened'. Pay close attention.
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My account of the mini TV series Criminal Justice
misskkaur5 July 2008
I thoroughly enjoyed the series "Criminal Justice" and was at the edge of my seat throughout. The acting on the part of Ben Wishaw was excellent as he managed to pay attention to detail in terms of his nervous ticks and facial expressions and one really could empathise with his character who was extremely endearing Ben Wishaw's performance was astounding and deeply moving. I wish I could tell him myself. Equally the portrayal of the British justice system was extremely interesting and insightful, this is really TV at its best as it deals with so many different character types each with their own unique characteristics hence the shabby looking solicitor who was first and last in representing him. the cinematography was poignant and succinct as it moved at a good pace keeping its audience encapsulated throughout.

Kind Regards Kuldeep Kaur.
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Fanfastic start, but later on seems to wander a little into sub-Dickensian territory
paolo_bf7 July 2008
This mini-series hits the ground running, the first episode including the sea side scenes and part of the second are just fantastic, but then the drama engages in the ambitious task of analyzing whatever may or may not be wrong with the British penal and judicial system, I praise the intent, but to incorporate seamlessly and successfully this sort of concerns into a drama is not an easy task, we are promised some sort of rigorous examination, but instead of 'Oz' (brutal US prison drama), we get some sort of sub-Dickensian ambiguous horrors, where a lot is promised but very little delivered and there is always a little army of semi-benevolent Artful Dodgers and Fagins to save our hero's day, like Peter Postethwaite's Hooch 'the listener' and David Harewood's master criminal Freddie Graham, the latter does a really good job of injecting true menace in its role. We know we are entering Dickensian territory when Con O'Neill seedy lawyer complete with gotta, bandaged feet and perennial facial stubble appears on the scene, the irony is that he does a wonderful turn and steals every scene in which he appears, it is just that it feels like he had just been wandering out of a Great Expectation set to blunder into the wrong drama by mistake. In the last episode where all ideological concerns need to be shed to wind down the narrative the drama seem able to recreate some of the original dramatic tension of the first part. ON THE WHOLE Highly RECOMMENDED!
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Ben Whishaw did it again
April R25 January 2016

Phenomenal. Ask me one word to describe this mini-series, and I'll answer you that. Then I'll urge you to go watch it.


Well, for starters, this show is gripping in a very subtle way with its slow-pace and it's gets increasingly hard as it goes on not to be on the edge of your seat, anxious and with a bitter taste all over your mouth(read: impossible). I ended up kind of binge-watching this in one day and, let me tell you, I've been not a trifle disappointed with the final chapter and the way things end up unwinding. Matter of fact, I'm convinced the last episode was the best in terms of tension and build-up, something quite rare in today's series where lacking scripts fit for maybe two hours are stretched into six- and then some. This was not the case at all.

Last but not (at all!) least, the acting: Ben Whishaw is a gem, and a horribly underrated one at that. His restless eyes, along with his general face expressions, are what makes the character so enthralling and real throughout. Not that the words have no weight, mind: they, do of course, and the script is not faulty or vague. This guy, however, have eyes that speak volumes and the versatility with which I've seen him use them in here, as well as in another works, is truly praiseworthy. In general, every actor did a hell of a great job with the exception of, perhaps, Ben Coulter's mother who I couldn't help but feel was always stiff and even a bit robot-like in a way that didn't seemed all that natural. But maybe that's just me!

Anyway, the bottom line is this makes a real enjoyable watch, if a bit bittersweet for the questions it invariably raises in us. I highly recommend this show to everyone who's into this particular genre, its high quality makes it clearly stand out from all the poorly-thought out 'dramas' we get nowadays. Congrats to the BBC on this one!
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A good solid drama
tonyjackie5 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I have just watched this mini series and am pleased to say that it was pretty good overall with good performances in general.The plot was pacey and I liked the way that it showed prison life to be no bed of roses with a general feeling of fear as shown by new inmate Ben.The story is basically a murder mystery,did Ben do it or not?Obviously I won't disclose anything at all but the series did manage to keep me watching until the very end.

As mentioned earlier,the acting is generally impressive especially from Con O'Neil as Stone,Bill Paterson as world weary cop Harry Box and David Harewood as the intelligent but very dangerous prisoner Freddie Graham.One thing I didn't like was the near romance between Ben and his defence lawyer Frances.The lingering looks,the holding of hands,the hugs,the kisses.No,it just didn't work for me as I couldn't accept that a young lady with the chance to make a name for herself would show such weakness,especially as it was her first murder case.It may well happen in reality,maybe.But it seemed out of place and forced and at one time I felt it could have ruined this fine drama.Luckily,it didn't get out of hand but I did find myself losing a bit of interest whenever Ben and Frances were alone together.Another small gripe was that I felt that the ending was maybe a little rushed and I had a bit of difficulty accepting what Hooch did towards the end.I definitely won't give any hints here in case you haven't seen the last episode.These are relatively minor niggles in a consistently gripping and well made mini series.

You may have missed this five part series and I have no hesitation in recommending it when it is repeated which it undoubtedly will be.This is a decent drama that shows that British television can compete with more lavish crime series from America.Nice one.
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Hugely compelling, but implausible
hdjp26 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I don't normally write reviews, but both seasons of this drama have really grabbed me. I didn't mind the slow pace, because it had me buying in, and I'm a sucker for a bit of neo noir. That's why I wanted it to be perfect.

I was really taken in by this at an emotional level, probably because of some great performances. Maxine Peake, of course, but also the girl playing Ella, who for a 13 year old was pretty amazingly good. I think you can tell when everybody really believes they're involved in something good.

However, part of the pleasure of watching this was meant to be that you were watching something that tells it like it is, and the writer (Peter Moffatt) would surely be disappointed by the ease with which people have been able to pick holes in the plot, not just the procedural details.

A few that were mentioned here and elsewhere: - Why did the Police arrive on the scene before the Ambulance, when they didn't know there had been a crime committed yet? - Would a deeply depressed and controlled woman jump on her doctor (maybe, but would the Doctor let her?) - A judge who knew the deceased would never be allowed, plus several other things that are driving the legal professionals on here nuts e.g. a solicitor would not be cross examining the main witness at an important trial. The QC would do this.

  • Psychiatric reports would be hugely important in a trial such as this. Juliets' state of mind is basically the centre of the piece. That determines whether she is guilty of murder or not. You'd think they might ask an expert.

To which I would add: - Would a 13 year old witness to one parent stabbing the other be allowed to give evidence in open court, as much as they might wish to? (In fairness the car crash this would invite is indeed what happened) - If Juliet is not visibly pregnant on the fateful night, and she spends six months on remand, how is it that she gives birth some time before the trial? Time is a bit tight there.

  • Would Ella really be allowed to go into the trial without being warned that the degree of her trauma, and the counselling she has received, would be used to argue that her recollections are unreliable? Presumably that's a standard line they'd use on traumatised witnesses all the time, if it had any validity.

I'm sure there are plenty more! There are also a couple of moments where where we slide into melodrama. Why does Joe have to be shown dying at the precise moment that his daughter is visiting? I just thought that was a bit much.

But as I say, if I didn't care, I wouldn't have gone to all this trouble to find fault. Just enjoy having a good wallow in all the misery...
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Innocence has nothing to do with it
Angelus215 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is a good strong drama that sticks out a class above the rest; it is based on the justice system and shows a gritty world of 'winning'. What Lawyers are willing to do in order to free their client, distort evidence, trick witnesses and so on. It is beautifully shot, written and acted,the actors are perfect for the roles that they are given, everyone excels and no one is a weak link. The character Ben is very lovable he is innocent and naive; it is a sheer pain seeing him in prison and the predators that lurk. Characters like Hooch, Stone are played fantastically providing Ben advice and comfort in the youngsters time of need.

While Freddie Graham is just plain scary...He doesn't even need to speak to send shivers down your back; the character at first seems to be the anti-hero but as the episodes go on it reveals his true motives, the only thing that I didn't like was the ending; It had no real closure with the character Ben.... But nonetheless a great show.
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Convincing expose of UK justice system
jc-osms5 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Engrossing and involving, if highly fictional BBC drama shown over five consecutive nights, highlighting, or should that be low-lighting the British criminal justice system, effectively putting in the dock for viewers' consideration the police force, legal system and prison office, all of whom, on the "evidence" here, are all found wanting. The programme effectively combines three main narrative strands around these institutions of modern society, from the murder incident itself and the police detective (defective?) work alongside it, the trial process set at length in a court of law and perhaps most effectively the dehumanising incarceration process within the confines of prison. Some bits work better than others. The basic murder mystery is handled somewhat freely and brought to a fairly undramatic conclusion, although it's main purpose I think was likely to be in effectively highlighting the grey area of collusion which purportedly exists between lawman and lawbreaker, here personified by Bill Paterson's career cop being surprisingly in cahoots with the Mr Big, played by David Harewood in prison. I also found the depiction of the legal system somewhat hackneyed with characters and situations just too stereotyped and really more at home in the mediocre BBC legal soap opera "New Street Law" from last year. Examples of this are the young female junior barrister getting involved (albeit lightly) with the young defendant and her barnstorming attempt to pin the murder on the dead girl's father, without even checking if he had an alibi (as of course he did). What will stay in the memory most however are the scenes in prison where the vilification of the prison service is damned to hell. There are no upholders of the law in the jail, the prison officers invariably displayed as weak, conniving or both. I really can't or maybe don't want to believe things are that bad in UK prisons with a Freddie Graham character running the place as his own fiefdom. That said, it made for taut drama, with many memorable if shocking scenes of rampant moral corruption inside. The acting is mostly very good, Pete Postlethwaite unsurprisingly, given his pedigree, taking the honours with a completely credible performance as Hooch, the hard-bitten lifer who's learned to adapt and survive but ultimately at the expense of his own conscience, which he redeems but pays for in full at the end. There are other excellent turns too, principally by Con O'Neill as the Colombo-type gumshoe who plays the situation for all he can get, Bill Patterson as the too-long-in-the-tooth detective who now blurs the line between right and wrong and Lesley Duncan as the experienced cynical senior barrister who rides roughshod over her client's feelings to get the easiest and quickest result for her. Special mention must go though to Ben Whilshaw as the innocent, out-for-a-good-time youngster who is drawn into a latter-day Kafka-ish nightmare who emerges at the end physically intact but obviously deeply affected by his horrific experiences and who in the last scene now feels outcast from the friendly football kick-about in which he participated in the opening scenes. He has a face reminiscent of John Lynch in "Cal" or David Bradley in "Kes", and portrays what must have been a gruelling role with conviction and realism. On the whole an excellent thought-provoking drama, let down only slightly by its probably necessary concessions to TV drama with perhaps more cliffhangers than would probably be the case with more typical, I would imagine, hum-drum real-life criminal cases. One caveat - would the BBC please stop its infuriating habit of trailing the succeeding programme at the end of the current programme. It's unnecessary and insulting to viewers' intelligence, especially in this instance when the programme was shown over successive nights.
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good but not great
Maui312 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I am a woman.

And I, like another reviewer here, found the plot to be very stereo-typical and patronizing to most of the men portrayed in it. The only man not stereotypical in my view is Dr. Rose who is portrayed as weak and undecided which is patronizing. The women, on the contrary, are portrayed as strong, opinionated or misunderstood victims.

This was written by a man. A man who is purportedly an ex-barrister. So is he right?

Well, apparently much of the legal details of this production are muddled. So much so, that it is a point of contention with some. Therefore, is one really suppose to just "suspend belief" because it's a drama? Moreover, should one derive a true premise from it and then make assumptions based on a dramatic interpretation?

Also, five night episodic treatment left it tedious and slow. Better if it had run three nights.

It certainly gets one talking, but if anything, the greatest part of Criminal Justice was the performances. Maxine Peake, Matthew Macfadyen and Sophie Okonedo were brilliant.

And, brilliant acting can make you believe anything!
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Misandry and cliché
bpeacock-29 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I'm sorry, but I cannot let all this praise go without some balance; the first series of Criminal Justice was pretty good but this has clearly been written by or from the view point of a mysandronous woman. Every male character is a cliché - young slightly evil convict at all costs bit of rough Essex boy cop v his understanding wife super cop who, up until this case, loved him but now questions their relationship. The older wiser cop - all men are evil a woman told me so, look for the underlying reasons as to why, etc., etc., The heroine solicitor who, of course, knows best. Social worker - same. Defence QC brilliant female, prosecution QC, nasty, snobbish, misogynistic, etc., etc., Hard nosed prisoner with a soft heart..tough girl prisoner who appears like a walk on baddie during a pantomime. It just goes on and on Surely this could have been made a lot more interesting if the characters had been more human, more realistic, not all men are evil not all woman are saints, this needed a more intelligent script for what is, obviously a worth subject.
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Whodunit? Who Cares?
Leftbanker8 August 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Spoiler Alert: The crime is the least interesting thing about this story. I wish they would have simply forgotten about the murder and just focus on the other areas.

The reason I'm watching this British series is because it has been redone on HBO in the States. Criminal Justice (The British The Night of) is a decent series. As an American I have a hell of a time with some of the accents and the lawyer guy (or whatever the hell he is) mumbles a lot and he is very difficult to understand at times. For such a small country they have a lot of messed up accents.

If this is an accurate portrayal of the British court system then theirs is a lot more lacking than what we have in America. They just go back and forth between prosecution and defense instead of giving the prosecution case first and then the defense with witnesses called in some sort or order.

I really wish they hadn't gone the route of a whodunit but they did and it was pretty stupid. I just didn't care by the end if he had killed her or not. I think it would have been much better if we never really knew who did it and the kid was i for a life in the can.
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