Showtrial, the new BBC crime drama premieres this weekend and it’s set to dissect the legal system in a way we haven’t seen on primetime TV before.
This Sunday, BBC One is releasing yet another crime drama for all of us to get our teeth into and we couldn’t be more excited.
From the producers of beloved dramas Line Of Duty, Bodyguard and Vigil, Showtrial is the new twisted drama that will fill our Sunday evenings with questions of ‘who did it?’ and ‘who can we trust?’.
Taking over that primetime 9pm Sunday slot on BBC One, Showtrial follows the high-profile fictional court case of millionaire heiress Talitha Campbell and her solicitor Cleo Roberts. Set in the present day, Talitha stands accused of the conspiracy to commit murder. Rather than rely on her father’s fortunes and flashy legal team, she opts for the on-duty solicitor provided by the courts, Cleo is played by The Originals’ Tracy Ifeachor.
The BBC’s official synopsis states: “When Talitha Campbell, the estranged daughter of a wealthy property developer, is charged with conspiring to murder fellow university student Hannah Ellis, the trial that follows places victim and accused – and their families – in the eye of a media storm.”
The unlikely backbone to this otherwise classic crime drama is actually the interpersonal relationship between these two unlikely characters.
Easily overlooked because of her privilege and wealth, Talitha, played by Bridgerton’s Celine Buckens, is introduced to us as an “old school posh” character. In the first episode, we see Talitha dismiss Cleo and remark that the case is “above your pay grade”. Her general smugness carries into the interview room, where she shrugs off the accusations that surround her as “complete bullshit,” even when advised to stick to a ‘no comment’ rule.
Rather than accept her legal counsel, she simply tells Cleo: “Thanks but I’m bored of saying the same thing over and over again.”
It’s hard not to form an opinion of Talitha initially and her behaviour will likely grate on viewers. But as we watch more of her, we come to realise that her actions may just signal a level of naivity at the situation before her.
What is quite enjoyable to watch unfold though is the growing dynamic between Cleo and Talitha. While Talitha may be strong-willed and generally rude, Cleo manages to combat this.
Crime dramas can often depict lawyer-client relationships in a surface-level way but here we’re treated to Cleo’s growing dismay, a behind-the-scenes of the stresses of being legal counsel, if you will. Her nerves and unease are clear to see in the way she taps the interview table or how she heavily sighs at Talitha’s remarks.
We get the sense, as viewers, that Cleo is as equally uninformed as us. We’re piecing parts of the case together at the same time, rather than her assuming that her client is guilty or otherwise.
Cleo is quietly focused on the details at hand and while Talitha may choose to undermine her solicitor, Cleo easily handles their disagreements, almost like that of a mother-daughter duo. “Watch your mouth” is a phrase that you wouldn’t expect to come from a solicitor in a crime drama but Cleo delivers it almost as cuttingly as some of Talitha’s quips.
As the episode unfolds, we get an idea of Talitha’s friendships, her relation to Hannah Ellis (played by Abra Thompson) and the estranged relationship she has with her father (played by The Tudors’ James Frain).
In the background of the episode’s interrogations, the police avidly look for Hannah’s body and the mounting tension quickly turns to sympathy for Hannah’s mother Andrea, played by Claire Lams. We’re watching the case unfold on every side here, from the victim’s family’s perspective, the suspect’s and the investigating forces around it too. It’s a multi-dynamic that adds intrigue and slow-burning detail to the first episode.
While this drama has a traditional set up that will have viewers distrusting every new character and avidly watching for details, at the center of it are actually some hard-hitting themes. Class, wealth and prejudice in the justice system are all prevalent issues, even in the first episode.
The general feeling of this initial episode is one of relative claustrophobia, mirrored by the main setting of the prison in which Talitha is being held for much of the episode. There’s an impending sense of doom and distrust building, with no real source.
Much of the negative emotions within this episode are directed towards Damian, Talitha’s father. He corners Cleo in her office and admits that he “knows a thing or two about snakes and ladders. I can be either. Really, I don’t have a preference”. It’s all about getting his own way, he admits and, in this case, is all about getting Talitha to speak to him. But is his attempt at helping his daughter really just a mask for something else?
The pace of the first episode is relatively slow but in true BBC crime drama fashion, the final scenes are where viewers will likely be most gripped. Tension mounts and police officers finally get a break in the case.
Seeing a female-led crime drama is one thing but to also see some diverse representation in primetime television – with a Black woman as a central, powerful character – is something that many of us have been yearning to see.
Showtrial gives viewers something deeper to ponder. What does justice look like and for who? How can the legal process be distorted through our own prejudices?
We’ll have to watch and see.
Showtrial premieres on BBC One on Sunday 31 October at 9pm.