Law & Order: UK series 7, ITV, with Bradley Walsh, Paul Nicholls PREVIEW

DS Sam Casey (PAUL NICHOLLS) and DS Ronnie Brooks (BRADLEY WALSH) in Law and Order: UK 7
Sam and Ronnie find the cause of the train wreck – an abandoned vehicle. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: starts Sunday, 14 July, 9pm

Story: A commuter train collides with a car that’s been abandoned on the tracks in Streatham, resulting in deaths and a huge number of injuries. A man is charged with murder – but was he after revenge or acting through diminished responsibility?

MANY SHOWS LIKE to end a series with a bang. This latest batch of L&O: UK, however, kicks off with one – a train smash that kills 15 people and injures hundreds.

It’s a spectacular opener, which has the added job of injecting new faces into the legal and cop halves of

PATERSON JOSEPH as DI Wes Leyton in Law and Order: UK series 7
New guvnor Paterson Joseph

the drama. Paterson Joseph steps in as the new detective inspector, Wes Layton, and Georgia Taylor is Kate Barker, who faces Dominic Rowan’s established prosecutor, Jake Thorne, when a man is charged for mass murder following the crash – though there’s a nice twist to her story after she gets in Jake’s face during the trial.

Ronnie tries to calm Sam down

The tragedy of the crash is rammed home when DS Sam Casey (Paul Nicholls) tries but fails to save a boy on the train. Reliable Ronnie (Bradley Walsh) attempts to calm his younger colleague and keep him focused on finding out who left the vehicle on the tracks.

They zone in first on an arrogant, abusive husband who owns the abandoned wheels, then on Finn Tyler, a sad case, separated from his wife and with an alcoholic background and suicidal tendencies.

When the case goes to trial, Sam and Jake are desperate to nail Tyler, who they see as a man who, through his own selfishness, recklessly caused the death of 15 people and devastated hundreds of lives. They want him to serve life sentences for each victim.

New face Kate claims diminished responsibility

Defending Tyler is Kate Barker, who has a bee in her bonnet about the mistreatment of people with

DOMINIC ROWAN as Jacob Thorne, PETER DAVISON as Henry Sharpe and GEORGIA TAYLOR as Kate Barker
Actress Georgia Taylor joins the team

mental health issues and cuts to their services. She argues Tyler  was suffering an abnormality of mind.

In line with the best episodes of Law & Order (this one, called Tracks, is based on the US episode Locomotion), the drama’s loaded with twists and ambiguity, refusing to tell viewers which side to take.

It’s got a great performance from Aidan McArdle as Tyler (unrecognisable here from the smarmy lawyer he played in Garrow’s Law), and there’s a nice scene when Jake basically discards court protocol and just makes a speech slamming the accused. Not realistic, perhaps, but emotional all the same.

What is DS Casey up to?

Where many dramas, such as Broadchurch, benefit from the slowburn, Law & Order‘s template is all about concisely told dramas packed with characters who have murky motivations. The truth is usually hard to discern and the good guys don’t always win. It’s a formula that kept the original US series going for a record-breaking 20 years.

Scriptwriter Emilia di Girolamo, a stalwart of the series and fan of the US version, has written a powerful one here. She tells me series seven features her last two scripts for Law & Order: UK, which is a shame, while she focuses on other projects.

The good news is that it’s a two-part opener, and she’s written the next instalment, which has some pretty big questions to answer about DS Sam Casey after his apparently dodgy behaviour at the end of part one.

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DS Ronnie Brooks (BRADLEY WALSH), DS Sam Casey (PAUL NICHOLLS), DI Wes Leyton (PATERSON JOSEPH), Jacob Thorne (DOMINIC ROWAN), Kate Barker (GEORGIA TAYOR) and Henry Sharpe (PETER DAVISON). Law and Order: UK, ITV
The law and order sides of the story

The Poison Tree ITV1 with MyAnna Buring, Matthew Goode PREVIEW

Nowhere to hide? MyAnna Buring as Karen in The Poison Tree. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½ 

ITV1: starts Monday, 10 December, 9pm 

Story: Karen Clarke has spent 12 years waiting for her partner, Rex, to be released from prison. Now he is free, she is looking forward to settling down to normal family life – but suddenly she feels she is being stalked…

Based on a novel by Erin Kelly (which was highly praised by Stephen King), The Poison Tree is a two-part family thriller revolving around buried secrets gradually being forced to the surface.

Karen and Biba

Karen and her teenage daughter, Alice, greet Rex on his release from prison after he’s done 12 years inside. She’s looking forward to starting a new family life with her partner, determined that they should keep from Alice the secret of their past and the events leading to Rex’s imprisonment.

Karen also covers for Rex’s absence by telling the neighbours near their small seaside bungalow that he’s been away working.

Partying, drugs and an unhappy childhood
Through a series of flashbacks we get clues to the momentous, secret events that forged Karen and Rex’s relationship. Karen actually met Rex’s damaged sister Biba first, when she and Rex were living a hedonistic life in their own grand house.

At the time, 1999, Karen was a mousey languages student, while Biba was a flamboyant art student. However, behind the partying and drugs lay an unhappy childhood for the siblings, with their rich businessman dad, Max, being unfaithful to his wife, who was suicidal over his antics.

As Karen comes on the scene, events come to a murderous climax, though as episode one finishes we are still not sure how Rex ends up in jail. What is clear, is that his release is not the new start Karen hopes for.

Released from prison – Rex

Creepy seaside setting
There are the silent phone calls, anonymous texts and the feeling that someone is watching their remote bungalow. Karen is unwilling to tell Rex about this, and it becomes clear she has deeper secret that she is withholding from Rex.

The Poison Tree is adapted for ITV by Emilia di Girolamo, who’s written some gripping episodes of Law & Order: UK, and it’s a solid enough thriller. The beachside setting is isolated and made menacing by director Marek Losey.

The two episodes are just about enough time to build up the characters and keep us interested in finding out whether Rex really was the murderer and what went down in 1999…

Cast: MyAnna Buring Karen Clarke, Matthew Goode Rex, Hebe Johnson Alice, Ophelia Lovibond Biba, with Patrick Baladi, Ralph Brown, Lex Shrapnel, Neil McKinven

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Law & out of order – Sam gets a bit too close to victim Lucy. Pics: ITV

The last series ended with the shooting of Matt Devlin (Jamie Bamber). This Friday series six of Law & Order: UK concludes with another highly charged story (again written by Emila di Girolamo) in which Devlin’s replacement, DS Sam Casey (Paul Nicholls) gets a little too involved with the victim of what could be a serial attacker. A police forensics technician is stabbed to death in her home. When the same attacker appears to strike again, the victim survives and is able to identify the man, a taxi driver. Rest assured – Sam’s concern for Lucy (Lydia Leonard) involves plenty of fireworks with the prosecution team (Dominic Rowan and Freema Agyeman) and his boss, detective inspector Chandler (Harriet Walter). And despite some of the cops – Ronnie (Bradley Walsh) excepted – acting with a shocking lack of professionalism, there’s a fittingly dramatic courtroom face-off to wrap up the series. ITV1, Friday, 17 February, 9pm

Law & Order: UK with Paul Nicholls, Bradley Walsh PREVIEW

Paul Nicholls and Bradley Walsh. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV1, from Friday, 6 January, 9pm

Story: In a drive-by shooting outside the Old Bailey, DS Matt Devlin is killed and another officer hit by gunfire. It appears to be a targeted attack on a young witness giving evidence in an attempted murder trial. But then DS Sam Casey learns the gunman was targeting police officers.

Paul Nicholls puts in a decent shift as Bradley Walsh’s new sidekick as season six gets off to an emotionally charged start following the shooting of Matt Devlin (Jamie Bamber) in the previous series’ cliffhanger.

He plays detective sergeant Sam Casey, brought in to help with the investigation into Devlin’s shooting outside the Old Bailey in a drive-by killing. Brooks is devastated by seeing his partner shot. He gets off to a rocky start with Casey when the new man tells him not to jeopardise the investigation by interfering when he should be off duty recovering.

Justice league – the Law & Order: UK team

Ronnie Brooks turns ‘Robocop’
Streetwise Brooks, of course, ignores the advice and is slammed by his boss, Chandler, for turning ‘Robocop’.

Devlin was hit in what was thought to be an attack on a young witness giving evidence in an attempted murder trial. But Casey tracks down a suspect, student Jamal, and it appears he could have been targeting police officers.

The strength of this spin-off from the US series is that the cases are often realistic in their messiness and ambiguity. Here, the defence barrister (Paul Salmon) argues that Jamal is the victim of police racism, a claim helped by Brooks’ misguided interference. As Jamal’s true motivation becomes apparent,  prosecutors Jake and Alesha are not sure they can get him convicted of murder.

Brooks to his the booze again?
While Paul Nicholls, whose credits include EastEnders and Candy Cabs, looks the part of a young detective, this episode is really Bradley Walsh’s show because he has a lot more to get his teeth into in this story.

Brooks is teetering on the point of coming off the wagon. He says of himself, ‘Married too many times, got my girls. Matty never got any of that.’

On the edge: DS Brooks

Whether checking on his partner’s flat, dealing with Devlin’s sister or taking possession of his trademark raincoat, now covered in his friend’s blood, Walsh is the episode’s heart. 

Emotional punch
It’s a strong opening episode and lives up to writer Emila di Girolamo‘s desire to inject more emotion into the lead characters’ lives, which is difficult given the tightly packed police/courtroom formula. While the conclusion is a bit neater than is often the case with this series, it still highlights the legal system’s alarming fallibilities, on this occasion a pathologist being the dodgy link.

Law & Order: UK‘s success in regularly hitting an average of 5.6million viewers is deserved and based on its no-nonsense, strong storytelling – the kind of focused cop show The Bill used to be back in the 1980s before it went off the rails and became a dodgy soap.

No chance of that happening with L&O: UK so long as it sticks to the original franchise’s formula and keeps recruiting good actors and writers.

Cast: Bradley Walsh DS Ronnie Brooks, Paul Nicholls DS Sam Casey, Freema Agyeman Alesha Phillips, Dominic Rowan Jake Thorne, Peter Davison Henry Sharpe, Harriet Walter Natalie Chandler, Colin Salmon Doug Greer, John Boyega Jamal Clarkson, Ken Drury Justice Pedotti, Victoria Gould Dr Jeanette Barnton

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Law & Order: UK lead writer Emilia di Girolamo

Emilia di Girolamo, the lead writer on series 5 of Law & Order: UK, is promising some of the most explosive and heart-rending stories yet seen on the show.

The drama, which was spun-off from the classic US series and takes the original American storylines as the basis for each London-based episode, has now become a popular drama fixture for ITV1 (on Sundays, 9pm).

Here Emilia reveals how she has shifted the tone of this latest series, giving the lead characters, DS Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh) and DS Matt Devlin (Jamie Bamber), more emotional depth, and how season five is heading for a huge cliffhanger finale. Her episodes in this series are ‘Safe’ (ITV1 Sunday 17 July, 9pm), ‘Deal’ and ‘Survivor’s Guilt’.

Emilia, who lives in Hastings, also discusses her career in scriptwriting. Having got a PhD in the rehabilitation of offenders and worked with prisoners, she decided to become a writer and spent years struggling for a break into television. She also reveals which popular BBC1 series she would love to write for.

Now that her work on series 5 and the next series of Law & Order: UK is finished, Emilia is writing an original drama series for Clerkenwell Films/ITV, and working exclusively with prisoner Jeremy Bamber to tell the story of the White House Farm murders, for which he has so far served 25 years in prison, while maintaining he is innocent.

Ronnie and Matt (Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber). Pics: ITV

The new series delves into Matt and Ronnie’s lives – can you give some idea what’s in store for them?

Both Matt and Ronnie will go on extraordinary journeys this season. For Ronnie, it all starts in episode 2, ‘Safe’, when he discovers his estranged daughter is pregnant and continues into season 6. Ronnie is faced with questioning his past and present behaviour and the fallout of one tiny moment in time will leave Ronnie emotionally challenged as never before. Matt also goes on his own journey this season and finds it hard to control his anger when faced with one particular offender – Mark Ellis, a cold blooded drug dealer played brilliantly by Charles Mnene. In this role Charles is like something out of The Wire – utterly convincing and very, very frightening.

In such a tight format, is it difficult to do this – to explore the characters?
It is challenging and the character arcs need to work seamlessly with the storytelling, but when it becomes part of the storytelling itself, then it works with the format. I think audiences are crying out for character-led drama right now and bringing that element to the forefront of Law & Order: UK has given us some explosive, emotional territory to explore.
Is it your ambition as lead writer to inject more depth and emotion into the characters?
Yes, and also to make sure all the stories feel relevant to a UK audience. It’s no secret I’m a big SVU fan. I love that emotional style of storytelling and I think it works well with our format. We’ve always been a little more emotional than our US counterpart and digging a little deeper into our regulars’ lives doubles the impact.
Prosecutors Alesha Phillips and Jake Thorne
Why are you concluding the series with a double bill? Will we see a different kind of story here?
‘Deal’ and ‘Survivor’s Guilt’ explore one story over two hours of television but in fact they won’t be airing together as a double, but instead we end series 5 with ‘Deal’ and kick off series 6 with ‘Survivor’s Guilt’. The two hours of storytelling mean we can delve into the story and particularly into the emotional fallout for our characters. In these two episodes we have the most explosive, emotionally charged and heart-rending episodes Law & Order: UK has ever done. We will end series 5 on an enormous cliffhanger and we believe for our loyal audience it’ll be worth the wait to find out what happens.
As a fan of the original Law & Order, can you sum up the series’ qualities? Why is it special? Do you have favourite episodes or stories?
There is something immensely satisfying about watching a case go from dead body to offender in the dock. It’s the whole story. I think this is the real magic of the formula – it’s a satisfying viewing experience which doesn’t leave a viewer wondering if the whole police case will get thrown out when it comes to court! In Law & Order we get to see the case thrown out for ourselves and usually our heroes find a way to retrieve things so all is right with the world in the end, if a little messy.
I have too many favourite episodes to mention them all but I’m very glad to be tackling two of my all time favourites in Season 5, ‘Angel’ and ‘Slave’ (‘Safe’ and Deal). They’ve both gone on huge journeys in adaptation and I’m immensely proud of them, but still love the original US eps too.
Your move from working in prisoner rehabilitation to becoming a leading TV writer sounds fascinating. Can you give some background on how this came about? When and what did you start writing, and how did your writing progress?
I worked in prison for eight years (1992-2000) using drama-based techniques to address offending behaviour and the work became the basis for my PhD. I was also writing plays during this period and wrote a novel (Freaky, 1999, Pulp Books). Freaky was optioned by Clerkenwell Films and developed for TV. Reading the scripts made me realise how much I wanted to write for television so I left my prison job, did a six-month retraining programme and started trying my luck as a TV writer.
It took a few years to get a break and a lot of projects that never made it to the screen, but I started out on EastEnders, then got the job writing one episode of Law & Order: UK – ‘Hidden’ for series 2. I was taken on to core team, then offered the job as Lead Writer/Co-Producer and now I’m incredibly fortunate to be in a position where I turn down more work than I can take on. Things have come full circle too and I’m now writing my own TV series with Clerkenwell Films for ITV1.
Jake and CPS director Henry Sharpe (Peter Davison)
How did your move to lead writer on L&O: UK come about? What is your role as lead writer?
My episodes in seasons 2-4 were very well received and when it became clear we would need to create new regulars for series 5 & 6, Executive Producer Andrew Woodhead asked me to take on the Lead Writer & Co-Producer role and create the new characters as well as shape the storytelling across series 5 and 6. I had a real vision of where I wanted our characters to go and their arc across the 13 episodes, so I jumped at the chance.
How does your expertise in prisoner rehabilitation influence your writing?
I spent eight years around offenders, looking right into the eyes of people who had done some really terrible things and trying to get to the heart of their behaviour in order to try and change it. It would be impossible to do that job and not find it influencing my writing now. I try and be as real as the format allows me to be. I like to explore morally complex and challenging territory without resorting to clichéd crime drama shorthand. I try and bring the truth of my experience with real offenders to my work on screen.
You’ve mentioned the ‘clichés’ that TV crime writers rely on. Which clichés do you think are prevalent these days on TV? What do you think are the best crime dramas?
There are a whole host of clichés that seem to surface in crime dramas – too many to mention. I suppose there are some that particularly wind me up – murderers with ridiculously complex motivations, most of the killers I met in prison actually had very simple motivations or more often the killings were spur of the moment and totally unplanned. I think you can be true to that reality and still weave a compellingly dramatic, complex and twisty tale that will keep viewers guessing. I think Forbrydelsen (The Killing) is the best crime drama in a long time. The characters are fantastic and the storytelling twists and turns keeping the audience on the edge of their seats throughout but also feels real. I love the layers, looking at one crime story evolve over 20 episodes from those three perspectives – the cops, the politicians and the victim’s family.
L&O: UKtackles some hard-hitting stories. How would you sum up the series’ approach to crime drama? Any unexplored stories/themes you’d like to get stuck into?
We try and make drama that feels relevant to a UK audience, rooted in an element of truth but dramatically entertaining. We like our audience to feel comfortable even when the territory we explore is difficult and challenging. In ‘Safe’ this season, we tackle some very dark territory, but Ronnie takes our audience on that journey and you can’t fail to feel safe in Ronnie’s capable hands. I’ve written 10 episodes in total and really think I’ve explored everything I wanted to within this format, but I’m enjoying tackling other aspects of criminal behaviour in my new series and other original projects.
Devlin in pursuit at St Pancras
Is there any scope or desire to do completely original stories for L&O: UK?
I guess it depends how long the show runs! There are 20 years of great stories to draw on from the Mothership and we take our episodes on quite a journey in adaptation. Sometimes it’s about adapting an original a writer loves and sometimes it’s about finding an original that could work as a vehicle to explore a theme or world the writer wants to look at, so it feels liberating rather than constrictive. I certainly feel that my episodes are original and very much mine because they travel such a long way from their US counterparts. I honestly never felt the desire to write completely original stories for the show, but I’ve left now so who knows what future series will bring.
In your downtime, what do you enjoy reading and watching on TV? Favourite authors/shows?
I rarely get to read these days unless it’s a script, research material or a book I’ve been asked to consider adapting, though that does mean I get to read some great crime novels! I’m adapting The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly for STV and that’s a great read. I do watch television though and lots of it. I think Misfits is probably the best written series on UK TV in a long time – just brilliant viewing. I found The Crimson Petal & The White incredibly compelling so will definitely be watching out for Lucinda Coxon’s next project – her writing’s beautiful.
All-time favourites include The Sopranos, The Wire, Dexter, Breaking Bad, The West Wing, Conviction, Afterlife, Funland and North Square. My light relief is 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm – they both make me laugh and all crime writers need to kick back now and then!
I also love Doctor Who and Torchwood and would secretly love to write an episode of Doctor Who and give it my spin, so if you’re reading, Mr. Moffat…
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