TV Review: Trial and Error & Fitz
Anyone with a jaundiced view of lawyers might be interested to know that they prepare for an important case with a series of cons. This is not legal slang for some creative bit of billing, but a shorthand for conferences - the meetings at which lawyers and their witnesses go over the evidence. There were several cons in Trial and Error (C4) - a film about the defence of Sheila Bowler, the music teacher who had served four years for the murder of her aged aunt before being freed on bail for a re-trial - and at each of them experts were canvassed for opinion helpful to the defence. "What do you do if the expert says something that isn't helpful?" David Jessell asked the leading barrister. "Oh, well you ditch that expert," he replied without hesitation, a slightly unfortunate choice of words given that the dead woman had been found floating in a drainage channel on the Romney Marshes.
Unlike most Trial and Error programmes this wasn't about the unearthing of new evidence but about how best to present evidence that had already emerged - from the solicitor's choice of a suitably avuncular QC to the agonising decision about whether Mrs Bowler herself should go into the witness box - a trade-off between fear of what the prosecution might do to her and anxiety about the jury's prejudice against silence. "If she's not careful she will get very tetchy and defensive," explained her daughter, raising the paradoxical point that that is the last thing a defendant should be. It was, as that suggested, a matter of narrative plausibility rather than proven truth - the jury have to be offered a consistent and satisfying tale to replace the spine-chiller proposed by the prosecution, a story in which a calculating woman leads an old lady to her death because she wants to preserve a small legacy from the steady erosion of nursing care. "The defence 'Well the fairies must have done it' is one that doesn't succeed very often," claimed the junior barrister drily, observing that juries can convict because of a faint sense that an acquittal wouldn't really be a satisfactory ending.
Even so, much of the lawyers work concentrated on persuading the jury that Mrs Bowler simply wasn't the murdering type (a policy also followed by the production team, who interspersed the real business of preparation with scenes of the defendant stroking a fluffy kitten, playing classical music on the piano and conscientiously writing to friends in prison - the sequences acting as a subliminal kind of character witness). Despite the successful conclusion to the trial the film was not an entirely convincing advertisement for the services of Mrs Bowler's senior lawyer, who at the eleventh hour proposed to offer the jury another possible scenario for the tragedy in addition to the one consistently offered by his client - a scenario that, had the jury believed it, would also mean she had been lying through her teeth for the last five years. Fortunately he was restrained by his colleagues, who were remarkably restrained themselves in the way they reacted to this suggestion.
Spare a thought for Fitz (ITV), the American re-make of Cracker, which, had it arrived without pre-history in the schedules would have probably have been given a warm welcome. The script is good, the scenes inventive in the way they create emotional tension between the characters and the acting a departure from the crisp, freshly-pressed norm of Hollywood detective series. Unfortunately it has all been done before and better - the ghost of Cracker haunts the whole thing, even peering out through the features of Robert Pastorelli, who looks remarkably like Robbie Coltrane after a three month stretch on a top-security health farm.
Spare a thought too for Ainsley Harriott who yesterday had to share his show with Chris Evans. "We're not in competition Chrissy," he said hopefully at one point, but he was so nervous about being upstaged that he repeated his favourite cliche ("Ooh we like a bit of ...") no less than six times. I hope someone has learned the lesson of this foolish experiment in television chemistry. Billowing clouds of innuendo and audience ingratiation resulted in several collapses and five people are still being treated for the effects of ego-inhalation.
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