Last Night’s TV – Criminal Justice

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Peter Moffat has that most elusive of gifts; he can engage his viewers instantly while simultaneously offering us clues – or more appropriately, red herrings – as to what the substance of the story to follow might be.

Team his script with flawless and evocative direction from Yann Demange, then add some of this country’s finest actors, and little can go wrong. And last night’s first of five parts of Criminal Justice didn’t falter. Not even a step.

And with the outstanding performances and script of the last outing of Criminal Justice – starring Ben Wishaw – as a blueprint, Moffat had great big boots to refill, and refill them he did.

Maxine Peake was simply awe-inspiring as Juliet, and by the close of last night’s episode, we were left wondering if her paranoiac and odd behaviour is the result of years of abuse at the hands of a man who uses any excuse, any minor contravention of his rules – whether real or imagined, as per Sleeping With the Enemy – to brutally punish her, or is she simply mad and he the long-suffering victim of her madness?

Likewise, the persona presented of Matthew Mcfadyen’s character, Juliet’s husband Joe, at first seemed to be an exemplary one, but he was soon portrayed as a dark and malevolent character… or was he?

Again, that rather depends on how one wants to be led and how one interprets words, actions, and subliminal messages. It’s often very easy to fall into the trap of letting brooding incidental music and lingering looks that seem threatening take us by the hand down the wrong road. Such is the genius of Moffat’s writing.

Another example of that not-what-it-looks-like-but-we’ll-let-you-think-it-is cropped up I suspect when we were led to believe Juliet was probably having an affair, but again, with scripts this well crafted and parlayed by the main protagonists, one can never be sure that an assumption is going to become a fact.

In fact, one can expect the diametric opposite from Moffatt, given that much of his writing hinges on that very point; supposition and assumption are often incorrect in their too-fast drawn conclusions.

Perhaps Juliet’s relationship with the father of a friend of her daughter’s is one of a doctor-patient variety. We know the man is a doctor from a brief mention made of his “bedside manner.”

Furthermore, as the episode reached its dramatic peak, we were led to assume that Joe was intent on anally raping Juliet, and not for the first time. We saw him order her to go downstairs to collect the Vaseline he had in his oh-so-organised briefcase, and she collected a knife while she was about it. But what if, as we’d seen earlier, poor old Joe is simply prone to chafing in his, cough, nether regions? We saw him applying it to himself when he went for a run. Or was that yet another red herring? Damn your clever plots Peter Moffat!

Anyway, we then saw Juliet return to the bedroom where she quietly sat, holding the knife and Vaseline – and her breath – hoping that Joe was asleep. No such luck for Joe then asked, “Are you coming to bed?” He then not so nicely ordered that she did, and the knife slid silently under the pillow.

The shot then turned to daughter Ella witnessing mummy and daddy playing horsey from her viewpoint near the bedroom door. She wandered off back to her room, but the guttural noises emanating from the bedroom soon turned into alarming gurgles. Juliet immediately dialled 999 and reported that Joe was hurt and said, “Sorry” as she put the phone on the nightstand.

We next saw Ella going into the bedroom as Juliet walked down the stairs in a blood soaked nightgown. Assumption of course is that Juliet stabbed Joe as he was above her. She, presumably, reached under the pillow – upon which she was face down – and took the knife to a point behind her, stabbing Joe in the abdomen from beneath him.

Guilty as charged M’Lud? Well it seemed so, but yet again, with Moffat, one can never suppose or assume. Obviously the list of suspects was a tad thin on the ground, given Juliet and Joe were – as far as we know – the only people in the room when the stabbing took place, but could it be it was an accident? Or maybe, in a twist to his usual styly, he’s decoying us with decoys and Juliet did indeed stab him, malice aforethought.

The scenes in the police station were harrowing and gruelling, but I was delighted to see Sophie Okonedo in the role of Juliet’s brief, Jack – short for Jaqueline – Woolf. Okonedo is far too rarely on our screens, but when she is, she brings understated magnificence to her roles, as did Peake, Macfadyen and Steven Mackintosh as DI Sexton. Not to mention the brilliant performance put in by Alice Sykes as 13 year old Ella.

I cannot wait for tonight’s episode and I’m so glad that this excellent drama is playing out over consecutive nights and we’re not having to wait for week-by-week episodes. I can guarantee that my social calendar is well and truly cleared for the next four nights…

So that means, in essence, that nothing will change; I don’t have a life beyond my TV, but dramas of this calibre comfort me and make me think perhaps that’s no bad thing!

And just as an entire aside, does anyone else think the minimalist, cubist’s-wet-dream of a house was actually on Grand Designs a while ago? I’m sure I recognised the glass frontage and white everything. If not, and if it’s a set, then the set designers should be on the list for whole heap of awards. The effect of brief splashes of colour from garden roses, shrubbery and the odd boldly coloured fixture was the perfect setting for an obsessive – whoever that obsessive turns out to be!

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.