Silk: Series One DVD Review: A Capable British Courtroom Drama

A compact procedural that draws on the sorts of moral quandaries barristers find themselves in as part of the job.
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British screenwriter Peter Moffat is no stranger to the legal system in his home and native land. A former barrister, he has created three television shows centred on the legal system: North Square, Criminal Justice and Silk.

The latter, which commenced in February of 2011 and is now in its third series, has made its way to DVD thanks to the BBC. The two-disc set features all six episodes from Series One and a behind-the-scenes bonus feature.

Silk stars Maxine Peake as Martha Costello, a defence barrister hoping to gain the rank of Queen’s Counsel - a notion known as “taking silk.” Costello is not the only barrister with silk on her mind. Clive Reader (Rupert Penry-Jones) is another barrister in line for the ranking, so that creates a rivalry that the series focuses on.

Also involved is young Nick Slade (Tom Hughes), a pupil who Martha takes under her wing. He has a tendency to steal things and hopes to impress Clive’s acolyte Niamh (Natalie Dormer). There is also Billy Lamb (Neil Stuke), the fair-minded senior clerk who stands by with concerned looks and a listening ear.

Silk is a compact procedural that draws on the sorts of moral quandaries barristers find themselves in as part of the job, but perhaps the strongest point is that Moffat steers things as close to chambers as possible. There isn’t a lot of time spent on personal lives, although there are a few diversions. Most of the scenes take place in courtrooms and offices and that works in Silk’s favour.

That said, Moffat understands that the subjective is never detached from the professional. Ethical lines do matter and how each character achieves their moral footing plays a part in the series.

Costello, in particular, defines her scruples firmly. At one point, she’s accused by Clive as having a “Dorothea complex” and wanting to save everyone. But her way of throwing herself into her work is not only a moral projection but a way of keeping herself grounded.

The show staggers somewhat when it concerns itself with Nick and Niamh, as the former’s infantile theft of a gown and wig stretches credibility when Silk deserves better.

A perfectly capable series, Moffat’s creation makes for an interesting watch for fans of procedural courtroom television. It doesn’t require deep acquaintance with Britain’s legal system, although some background on the import of the Queen’s Counsel would do nicely, and its many moral dilemmas play to universal themes.

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