We’ve Been Watching: Criminal Justice, Benidorm & EastEnders

by Lynn Connolly

Friday night’s TV was an embarrassment of riches, such was the quality of shows on offer, but it was also an annoying toss-up between watching the final instalment of Criminal Justice or Benidorm. As I don’t have Sky+, I decided to watch Benidorm and catch-up on Criminal Justice on BBC’s iPlayer, which is without doubt a superior on-demand service to ITV’s.

So which was better? Well, they were both equally brilliant, but I’ll start with the last part of Criminal Justice. When I first watched it and Juliet got sentenced to five years for manslaughter – to serve two-and-a-half years before consideration of parole – I felt it was a bit of an anti-climax, however, having thought about it, I can now see why Moffat wrote the ending that way…

I believe it’s because any other outcome would’ve been trite in that if she’d escaped sentence altogether, it wouldn’t have truly reflected the real sentences handed down for crimes of this nature, and ditto if she’d been found guilty of murder.

What Moffat did by taking the middle road was, in a sense, sacrificing some of the dramatic climax that we were perhaps expecting in order to end his story as he’d thus far presented it – truthfully.

Once I’d realised that, I began to fully appreciate the quality of the ending, and it produced some of the most moving and emotionally taxing scenes of the whole thing, and that’s no mean feat in a drama full of them.

Juliet’s agony and shame on the stand, and then her guttural wails when she had to hand her baby over, were magnificently portrayed by the always reliable Maxine Peake. And young Alice Sykes was exceptional in her depiction of Ella on the stand. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a great deal more of Alice in the future.

And let’s hope it’s not too long before Peter Moffat brings another drama of this calibre to our screens.

So onto Benidorm – and what a tremendous episode this was, primarily because we got to see the meek and mild Martin not only drunk but also ranting. His tirade at Brandy – played vividly by the gorgeous Sheridan Smith – had me actually crying from laughter, as did Noreen’s ‘outing’ of her son, complete to a full-on stage show of karaoke YMCA.

It was all achingly funny; Martin having to shield his dangly bits with Michael Garvey because Brandy had hidden his clothes for a laugh was one of the best comedy moments of the year. Likewise, Jacqueline and Donald propositioning Martin was similarly hilarious.

I’m so glad that Martin’s character is getting more of the good lines this season, and I think that’s in part thanks to the addition of Sheridan Smith as his ‘friend’, Brandy. She’s brilliant in whatever she’s in but as in Two Pints – in which her true abilities as a comedy actor evolved – the juxtaposition of her relationship is what makes it so funny. And it seems some of her character’s vulgarity is rubbing off on Martin as he swore in Friday’s episode, and I think, though I could be wrong, it’s possibly the first time a profanity has crossed his lips.

Finally, I must mention the absolutely incredible performances from Lacey Turner and Gillian Wright as Stacey and Jean respectively in EastEnders on Friday night. In a soap where quality is a given and dramatic storylines the norm, this episode stood out for the awe inspiring quality of the acting, writing, direction and camera work.

Stacey’s decent into a world dominated by paranoid delusion and her mother’s attempts to help her daughter made for some of the best scenes I’ve ever seen in a soap opera and I hope both get a truckload of awards for that episode.

I cried along with Stacey as she screamed for Bradley when the police were taking her away to be sectioned, and that’s not normally something a soap opera could elicit from me. But Lacey’s acting was so totally believable, her portrayal of Stacey’s pain and confusion so vivid, if it had been on the big screen, her name might well have been listed for an Oscar. And justifiably so.

Likewise Gillian’s role as Jean allowed her true abilities to shine through as an actor in this episode. Jean has, hitherto, had something of a ‘set’ persona, but in watching her suffer as her daughter suffers, Gillian has taken her character to places we’ve never seen before and the combination of her own and Lacey’s intense portrayals made this episode one of the finest ever.

Let us know what you thought of Friday night’s telly using the comment box below 🙂

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.