May 27, 2015


By Brad Oswald / Watching TV

Columnists

Easy to get tied up in courtroom thriller's twists

Sometimes, good lawyers keep bad people from getting what they really deserve.

In real life, as in movies and on TV, a lot of non-legal people have a problem with this.

Lawyers' rationale for doing what they do is summed up nicely by British barrister Will Burton, the central character (played by David Tennant) in the new PBS Masterpiece Mystery! thriller The Escape Artist:

"Everyone deserves a defence."

Which, of course, is a central tenet of legal systems in most civilized countries; that does not, however, prevent many outraged observers from wishing ill upon lawyers who use their courtroom skills to help criminals go free.

 

In The Escape Artist, a BBC import that premières Sunday at 9 p.m. on PBS, Will Burton is a lawyer who's very good at his job. He has never lost a case, and that unblemished record lands him atop a prestigious publication's poll of the U.K.'s top young criminal lawyers.

Still, he's a bit surprised when his bosses hand him a particularly tricky high-profile murder case. When Will asks why it hasn't been assigned to one of the firm's senior partners, the response is simple and direct:

"When you're chained to the bottom of a shark tank... you call for Houdini," says one of the higher-ups who has decided Will's the man for this sticky-wicket job.

The case involves an awkward, reclusive bird fancier named Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell), who's accused of the brutal murder of a female medical student. All the evidence -- and there's plenty of it -- suggests Foyle is the killer, so Will is forced to search for loopholes and technicalities that might punch a hole in the Crown's seemingly airtight case.

Did we mention that Will Burton has never lost a case?

It isn't spoiling anything to say that Will continues to be great at his job; as events unfold beyond the walls of the courtroom, however, he finds himself forced, for the first time, to directly confront the consequences of doing a very good job of representing a very bad person.

The Escape Artist -- the title is drawn from the nickname Will's courtroom brilliance has earned him -- unfolds in a fairly measured fashion, but the deliberate pace is punctuated with enough twists and surprises to keep it riveting. And as is the case in all worth-their-salt thrillers, the tension is continually ratcheted upward as each new layer is added to the story.

It starts out as a fairly routine British courtroom drama, but The Escape Artist transforms itself into a breathtaking cat-and-mouse thriller and eventually becomes a morality play of the highest order. The script, written by David Wolstencroft (MI-5), is terrific, and Tennant's (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) inevitably excellent performance is matched by the contribution of Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda), who plays rival barrister Maggie Gardner, No. 2 on the aforementioned barristers poll, but willing to do anything -- anything -- to take over the top spot.

Kebbell is perfectly creepy in the role of accused killer Foyle, who seems throughout the story to be toying not just with the lawyers, but with the legal system itself.

It's a cracking good yarn, very well told, and its short (two-episode) duration makes it just the right kind of must-see fare for the time of year when time is best spent outdoors.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2014 G9

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.

Winnipeg Free Press | @WinnipegNews

May 27 12:32 am

Swiss authorities: 6 FIFA officials arrested, suspected of getting, paying millions in bribes wfp.to/ROt

Winnipeg Free Press | @WinnipegNews

May 26 11:14 pm

Brassard, Lundqvist lead Rangers past Lightning 7-3 wfp.to/ROU

Paul Samyn | @PaulSamyn

May 26 11:01 pm

Growing troubles for city trees on Wednesday's front page of @WinnipegNews pic.twitter.com/xw8mjGQWfX

Winnipeg Free Press | @WinnipegNews

May 26 10:24 pm

'We don't want to hold another vigil' wfp.to/ROq

Winnipeg Free Press | @WinnipegNews

May 26 9:36 pm

Tories nominate Janice Morley-Lecomte for Seine River wfp.to/ROr

Scroll down to load more

Top