Blackout starring Christopher Eccleston, Dervla Kirwan

Hitchcockian assassination scene from Blackout. Pics:BBC

Rating: ★★★★

Channel: BBC1, starts Monday, 2 July, 9pm

Story: Corrupt council official Daniel Demoys’ life is spiralling out of control. He’s an alcoholic, his wife has had enough of his lifestyle, and he finds himself in an alleyway with the businessman who is bribing him when his life takes a violent turn.

Blackout is a bold bit of TV noir. It’s hard to look away from the car-crash life of local politician Daniel Demoys, played without vanity by Christopher Eccleston, as he descends into out-of-control alcoholism, corruption and family destruction.

It takes place in dark alleys and rainswept streets in classic pulp-fiction mode, and begins with a Hitchcockian bit of silent storytelling, a montage that sets the scene nicely, with Demoys stealing council documents that he will sell to a local businessman before turning up late for his daughter’s school dance performance – drunk.

Nightclubbing: Sylvie (MyAnna Buring) and Daniel (Christopher Eccleston)

Waking up as a potential murderer
The blackout of the title is the drunken loss of awareness Daniel suffers later that night. After a bit of corridor sex in a club with a blonde he’s met, Sylvie, he hands over the documents to Pulis in a back alley. The businessman taunts Daniel, things turn violent, and in the morning Daniel wakes from his stupor realising he may have committed murder.

Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent

His wife, Alex ( Dervla Kirwan), is sick of Daniel, his son is scared of him, he is disgusted with himself.

‘Show me a way out of this hell,’ he says, as his life takes a twist when he recklessly stops a bullet for a young man campaigning against gang violence. Director Tom Green again pays homage to the Master of Suspense by shadowing the famous assassination scene amid an array of umbrellas from Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent.

Dervla Kirwan is Alex

Bullet-stopping Daniel Demoys
Suddenly, Daniel has a heroic profile and is encouraged to run for mayor, to turn his life round and reignite his youthful dreams of making a difference to society. Will he make amends for the damage he has caused, or will his past catch up and destroy him?

Blackout is a sharp and compelling psychological thriller, with a first-class cast, including the electric Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock) as a slightly unhinged cop and menacing ex of Sylvie’s, Lyndsey Marshal as Daniel’s sister, and Ewen Bremner as his election agent. That’s in addition to a star turn from Christopher Eccleston as the sweaty, red-eyed, dishevelled Daniel.

Cast: Christopher Eccleston Daniel Demoys, Dervla Kirwan Alex Demoys, Ewen Bremner Jerry Durrans, MyAnna Buring Sylvie, Branka Katic Donna, Andrew Scott Dalien Bevan, David Hayman Henry Pulis, Rebecca Callard Ruth Pulis, Lyndsey Marshal Lucy Demoys, Olivia Cooke Meg Demoys,  Danny Sapani Detective Griffin

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Garrow’s Law DVD series 1 & 2

DVD: ★★★★½
Extras: ★★★★½

As series three of Garrow’s Law comes to a finish on BBC1 – following a tearful episode three in which Alun Armstrong’s solicitor John Southouse died – along comes the boxset featuring the complete series one and two.

These fact-based stories from the late 18th-century records of the Old Bailey, exploring the courtroom exploits of maverick barrister William Garrow, have been consistently entertaining and fascinating, throwing a light on a crude and barbaric era of British justice.

Garrow – forgotten hero
The murder of slaves, homosexuality, infanticide, treason – the early dramas have shown viewers the chilling treatment dished out at the Bailey, which basically acted as a clearing house for the rich and powerful against the poor and disenfranchised.

Along came pioneering barrister Garrow, a neglected hero from the archives until series co-creator Tony Marchant spotted his potential for this series. Here was a man who, like Atticus Finch, Horace Rumpole or Perry Mason, stood up for the underdog. The difference being that in Garrow’s day, the system was heavily tilted against defence counsel.

Andrew Buchan’s co-stars
Garrow, played by Andrew Buchan with the quiet fortitude once the speciality of James Stewart or Gregory Peck, defended the poor and desperate that other barristers turned their noses up at. Moreover, he established the right of defence lawyers to argue the case for defendants and cross-examine prosecution witnesses. Until then, whatever flimsy cross-examination was done came from the judge or jurors.  

Buchan’s co-stars have fleshed out the series wonderfully, with Lyndsey Marshal sympathetic as Lady Sarah Hill, Rupert Graves horrid as her husband Sir Arthur, Aidan McArdle slippery as the prosecutor, and Michael Culkin as Judge Buller having a face straight out of a Hogarth print.

Garrow’s Law documentary
The boxset introduces Garrow as an idealistic young barrister, has the barrister fighting a pistol duel with Sylvester and sees him in the dock himself, accused by Sir Arthur of ‘criminal conversation’ (or sex, in modern parlance) with Lady Sarah, all interwoven with intriguing courtroom battles.

Special features include Behind the Scenes of Garrow’s Law and an exclusive documentary, William Garrow: Fact and Fiction.

‘Garrow’s Law’ boxset supplied by

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Garrow’s Law series 3 with Andrew Buchan PREVIEW

Andrew Buchan as William Garrow. Pics: BBC

Rating ★★★★

BBC1 from Sunday, 13 November, 9pm 

Story: Garrow returns to the Bailey to risk his already tarnished reputation to defend James Hadfield, on trial for High Treason for attempting to assassinate King George III at the Drury Lane theatre.

The 18th-century courtroom maverick William Garrow returns to flip the wigs of the establishment with more legal derring-do in this third series based on true events from the Old Bailey archives.

Writer and co-creator Tony Marchant revisits a momentous legal battle for Garrow revolving around the attempted murder of the King one night at the theatre. James Hadfield, a former soldier, fires at the monarch in his box and is overpowered by the audience.

Garrow and Lady Sarah

Lord Melville makes it clear that the trial will be political. After some soul searching, Garrow agrees to fight an unpopular case for Hadfield but is puzzled by how to defend him. Convinced that Hadfield is insane – god has told him to sacrifice himself or everything will perish – Garrow is stuck with a law that considers him sane because he is not a permanently raving beast.

Criminal conversation – or sex with another man’s wife
It’s a juicy opener to the series, a past winner of a Royal Television Society award and again a drama that stirs our fascination and horror at the brutality and legal crudeness of merry old England.

At the end of the last series, our barrister hero was (wrongly) convicted of ‘criminal conversation’ – or having sex with another man’s wife. He is now in an ‘irregular’ relationship with Lady Sarah Hill, who is almost as deranged as Hadfield in this episode, so distressed is she at her separation from her child by evil, bitter, nasty husband Sir Arthur.

Following the scandal, Garrow and Lady Sarah are about as popular around town as George Papandreou at a Euro knees-up with Angela and Nicolas, and are struggling financially.

Madness of King George
The cast – led by Andrew Buchan as Garrow, Lyndsey Marshal as Lady Sarah and the spluttering Alun Armstrong as Garrow’s mentor Southouse – once again carry off the wigs and corsets with aplomb, skilfully transporting the viewer back to Newgate Prison, Bedlam and the Old Bailey.

Southouse, Lady Sarah and Garrow

It is in the notorious mental hospital of Bedlam, where people in the 18th century paid a penny to gawp at the mentally ill, that Garrow begins to form his defence. Here he learns that it is possible to be lucid most of the time, but still have a shaky grasp on reality. As usual, it is the law that is an ass.

This is a very delicate point for the barrister to get across, as the King himself is known to have a ‘mind that comes and goes’.

Garrow – fact and fiction
Garrow’s Law has shone a light on an unsung hero of history, and anyone interested in digging further into the facts of his life can start by checking out the Garrow Society website.

Otherwise, just sit back with a glass of port and goggle at the chilling spectacle of ye olde English law in action.

Cast: Andrew Buchan William Garrow, Alun Armstrong John Southouse, Lyndsey Marshal Lady Sarah Hill, Rupert Graves Sir Arthur Hill, Mark Letheren James Hadfield. Guest stars: Olivia Grant as Lady Henrietta, Sir Arthur’s mistress, Derek Riddell silk maker Matthew Bambridge, Patrick Baladi General picton, Cal Macaninch constable Lucas

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Garrow’s Law PREVIEW

Garrow, Lady Sarah and Southouse
(Pics: Graeme Hunter/Twenty Twenty Television)

Sunday, November 14, 9pm, BBC1

Rating ★★★★

Traditionalists who long for simpler times when the authorities really had zero tolerance for criminals must absolutely love Garrow’s Law.

The 18th century was a time when sodomy was a hanging offence and a ship’s captain could legally throw slave men, women and children overboard at sea if there wasn’t enough drinking water to go round. And, of course, most of the ‘criminals’ were what we’d today simply call poor and disadvantaged.

Series one, which first got us interested in the pioneering exploits of barrister William Garrow, was almost funny in showing us how bloody awful and iniquitous the Old Bailey was at the time. You half expected Blackadder and Baldrick to pop up every week.

Royal Television Society award
After the success of that season, inspired by the contemporary records from the Old Bailey that are now available online, and with a Royal Television Society award on the mantelpiece, co-creator Tony Marchant’s series and his starry cast are back.

And it kicks off with an extraordinary story about 133 slaves being dispatched overboard from the cargo ship The Zong. Not that the charge is mass murder, of course, but rather a legal squabble between the insurance company and the ship’s captain, whom the insurer’s think is trying to fiddle them.

As the lawyer opposing Garrow remarks, it’s a ‘case of chattels and goods, the same as horses being thrown over’. Did Captain Collingwood act so inhumanely to save the rest of the crew (after his blundering gets them lost at sea), or is there some corrupt reason for his brutality?

Andrew Buchan and Rupert Graves 
As Garrow, played once again by Andrew Buchan, the closest thing Britain has to James Stewart, searches frantically for a moral dimension to the case, his private life is in turmoil.

Lady Sarah Hill, newly returned to London with her infant son, is turned on by her jealous husband, Sir Arthur (Rupert Graves), who suspects the child might be that of her one-time admirer, Garrow. Sir Arthur and his high-ranking friends, unable to defeat Garrow in court, are determined to ruin him and Lady Sarah.

It’s a compelling mix of plotting and emotion, but the series’ magic is in the window it offers into a time when the legal process was extremely primitive. Before Garrow was re-examined in the recently posted online archives, he was obscure (not even a mention in the Oxford Companion to the Law).

Inventing the art of cross-examination
Thanks to Garrow’s Law we can glimpse this extraordinary man, years ahead of his age, outspoken and boldly anti-establishment during this phase of his career (he went on to be Attorney General and an MP).

Garrow argued for the right to put the case for defendants and virtually invented the art of cross-examining prosecution witnesses. Until then the judge or even the jury chipped in with questions. As depicted on-screen, the courtroom was chaotic, resembling a public debating chamber rather than a legal forum.

High-class lawyers were disdainful of representing the rabble dragged to court by shifty thief-takers and bounty hunters, who often gave evidence against the poor slobs they were paid to haul in.

Alun Armstrong and Lyndsey Marshal
The cast are all good, some with faces so characterful they look as though they’ve stepped out of the late 1700s (no names mentioned). Alun Armstrong is fatherly as Garrow’s mentor, Southouse, while Lyndsey Marshal manages to be strong but vulnerable as Lady Sarah.

It’s good to see this series returning. Each week’s story is dramatic and fascinating, with intrigues about the implications of being gay, about women and property, and the mistreatment of disabled sailors all to come.

If Garrow at times seems too saintly here, you still wonder what this man, so out of synch with his contemporaries, must really have been like.

Someone so dogged that he would cause uproar by calling Gustavus Vassa (actor Danny Sapani), a freed black man, to give evidence to a disbelieving court. Garrow was a man who could  really make enemies, and it’s great to watch him doing it.
• Tony Marchant has done an interesting blog about dramatising Garrow’s Law on the BBC site.

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