With Scott and Bailey having left us, as well as Vera coming to the end of its series, it feels time for another strong British female character to take their place, so step forward Maxine Peake’s legal eagle Martha Costello for the second series of courtroom drama Silk.
In series one we saw Martha compete with Rupert Penry-Jones’ Clive to be the first in their chambers to take silk, in other words become a QC, with only Martha achieving this in the show’s final episode. The episode seemingly picks up where last series left off with Martha smiling as she leaves for chambers and a dejected Clive looking to be going through a mid-life crisis, as he is filmed riding into work on a motorcycle…. however he is reminded of his failure when gets in to see Martha’s robe and wig waiting for her.
Neil Stuke’s Billy though is jubilant thinking that the fact that Martha is a QC will drum up new business, which he desperately needs after his reputation was slightly tarnished by a near-mutiny last series. The chambers are also feeling a little empty as legal students Nick and Niamh as well as the manipulative Kate have all left, with Billy mentioning that head-of-chambers Alan Cowdrey had got rid of all of them. The loss of the two legal students may be down to the critical reaction of Silk’s cast being too young making the programme not wholly believable.
To fill the gap some mature character actors have been hired, firstly Phil Davis whose unsavoury lawyer Micky Joy deals with the clients that Martha is asked to represent in episode one. They are crime family member Jody Farr and the family’s lackey Brendan Kay who are both charged with blinding a car park attendant after he asked them to move a Hummer. While Jody is obviously a smart member of the gang, it is the slow childlike Brendan who doesn’t seems to be the fall guy and Martha feels that Micky is conspiring with the Farr family to let him take the blame. Martha takes these concerns to Billy who promises to deal with them, however his need for business from Micky may well test his allegiances to his newest QC. Eventually Martha decides to represent Brendan separately, bringing in female lawyer George Duggan, whom Clive is working with on another case, to replace Micky. Davis is as brilliant as ever here playing a very old-school lawyer who is almost in with the mob and who distrusts Billy’s approval of Martha when he realises she won’t comply with the testimony he has in place. It seems that Davis is sticking around throughout the series, he’s certainly in next week’s episode, which is a good thing as he’s really added some grit to the series.
Joining Davis as a new regular character is the brilliant Frances Barber as Martha’s rival QC Caroline Warwick, who has been given the nickname Lady Macbeth by her colleagues. Barber introduces us to a character who is both sisterly to Martha out of court but vicious when they go up against each other later in the episode. This is a woman who has had to survive in a man’s world and has forgone having a family in order to do this although we do learn that she bats for both teams. She also thinks about joining the Shoe Lane chambers mainly because she needs a female friend and likes what she sees in Martha. Like Davis, Barber is a fantastic addition to the show and Caroline is a vision into what the future might hold for Martha who after sleeping with Clive last series still seems to be in love with him. Talking of romantic entanglements it also seems that Clive is taken with new solicitor in town George however she won’t be as charmed by Clive’s smooth operator techniques as his student Niamh was last series.
After a great series one, the opening episode of series two seems to suggest that this time the show will be even better as it has ironed out some of the key problems from the first series. Those problems were mainly with Martha’s student Nick as some of his actions did beggar belief at times so even though one of last time’s cliff-hangers was whether he or Niamh would become a permanent member of chambers I’m not that bothered that I didn’t find out if it means we get Barber and Davis in their places. Maxine Peake is as great as ever making Martha a fully-rounded character who is able to fully inhabit her character down to the change in facial expression, which is evidenced in the scene after the jury read out the final verdict. Rupert Penry-Jones doesn’t have a lot to do here, however he is able to set up Clive’s main plot strands throughout the series mainly his resentment of being Martha’s junior and his romantic pursuit of George. It is Neil Stuke who once again steals the show as Billy the morally ambiguous clerk, who sometimes puts running his business ahead of what he knows his right and what is wrong. The fact that Stuke comes from a comedy background means that he gives Billy a playful nature but the character is motivated by money so he doesn’t care who he double-crosses even if it is his beloved Martha.
The character of Billy is just one of the things I love about Peter Moffat’s script for Silk, as you really don’t know who you can trust because nobody, with the possible exception of Martha, is exactly who they seem. The script does have a lot of bouncy banter to begin with but once the trial begins everything gets serious and I found myself completely gripped throughout the last twenty minutes of the episode. I also like the way how the music, including Dru Masters’ theme tune, is employed throughout the episode especially during the court scenes which are initially completely devoid of sound other than that of the barristers talking. Though this episode does try to cram far too much plot in, including the introduction of a new junior who does little apart from find out about toilet paper, but that’s a minor criticism in a second series which already looks set to topple its predecessor in terms of plot and acting. So it does seem we do have a brilliant yet flawed strong female character in Martha Costello and long may the UK TV shows keep supplying us with these heroines as at the moment they seem to be fronting the best dramas on the box.
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