for peace … for freedom … for Canada

Garrow’s Law: Series 2

Release Year:   2010
Studio:   Acorn Media
Format:   Colour; NTSC
Rated:   Not Rated
# of Discs/Episodes:   2 / 4
Running Time:   240 m
DVD Release Date:   August 2, 2011

Creator:   Tony Marchant
Actors:   Andrew Buchan, Alun Armstrong, Michael Culkin, Rupert Graves, Lyndsey Marshal, Aidan McArdle
DVD Features:   William Garrow: Fact and Fiction featurette (22 min.), behind-the-scenes photo gallery, and cast filmographies; SDH subtitles
E: Top Picks Rating:   8/10

Acorn Media Write-up: 
Rich in period atmosphere and excellent performances, the gripping BBC courtroom drama Garrow’s Law, Series 2 debuts on DVD. Broadcast on BBC in 2010, the second series of this award-winning series follows upright, fiery barrister William Garrow (Andrew Buchan, “Cranford”, “The Fixer”) as he battles the injustices of the 18th century English legal system. Winner of a Royal Television Society award for best history program, the series features compelling plots, lavish sets and costumes, and an outstanding cast featuring Alun Armstrong (“Little Dorrit”, “New Tricks”), Rupert Graves (“Sherlock”, “The Forsyte Saga”, “V for Vendetta”) and Lyndsey Marshal (“Rome”, “Being Human”, “The Hours”). A favorite of critics and fans alike, Garrow’s Law first aired on BBC in 2009 and has since broadcast on PBS. A third season has recently been commissioned. The DVD 2-Disc set includes the four episodes of Series 2, a bonus 22-minute featurette on the real William Garrow, cast filmographies, and more.

In a time when prisoners in court have few rights, Garrow leads a legal revolution, coining the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” and defending the accused against the state. In return, he makes powerful enemies in politics and law. Chief among them is Sir Arthur Hill (Rupert Graves), now assistant secretary to the admiralty. Jealous and vengeful, Hill believes that Garrow is involved with his wife, Lady Sarah (Lyndsey Marshal).
As Garrow tackles difficult and controversial cases, all drawn from the Old Bailey archives, Sir Arthur’s net tightens around him. Soon Garrow is on trial, charged with “criminal conversation”—18th-century code for adultery. Can his friend and mentor John Southouse (Alun Armstrong) save Garrow’s reputation and career?

Jon Ted Wynne Review: 
Another current British production, GARROW’S LAW is the story of William Garrow, the 18th-Century historical barrister who turned the legal profession on its ear. It was Garrow who coined the expression “innocent until proven guilty” and in this series Garrow is most certainly the champion of the underdog.

A certain amount of artistic licence is acceptable in fleshing out an historical character like Garrow. Presenting him as being particularly drawn to unpopular causes is to be expected, though isn’t always successful.

This four episode series sees Garrow take on such issues as the slave trade, which works well as drama, as well as a reminder that Garrow has contemporary relevance as a defender of human rights.

Usually Garrow’s views and procedures as he undertook these courtroom battles are well-documented and the writers of the show are able to incorporate them into the scripts. This gives the program a certain authenticity which really serves the drama.

However one episode goes a bit too far, in my view. During this period in history in the United Kingdom, sodomy was a serious offence, punishable by a severe prison sentence. An accusation of sodomy was sometimes used as a tool to blackmail individuals who might, in all likelihood, be entirely innocent. The subject was considered so distasteful at that time that court records were censored, thereby leaving out details of the accusation and only recording the fact that such a trial occurred, and its outcome.

Historical records show that Garrow defended one such accused individual. From that scrap of information, the writers concoct an episode that essentially makes Garrow a champion of gay rights. While this is all acceptable to most contemporary mindsets, it is questionable in the context of an historical drama. It’s modernistic and unrealistic to show the couple engaging in a tender kiss inside a prison cell. In a solidly historical drama, modernism is obvious and out of place.

Political correctness aside, this is the only aberration in an otherwise excellent set of episodes to further the series.

The other main story arc is Garrow’s relationship with Lady Sarah Hill, which results in his being charged with “criminal conversation,” which was the 18th-Century euphemism for adultery.

The strains of these circumstances test Garrow’s ability to focus on the other cases in his workload, including one involving a young child.

Andrew Buchan is appropriately principled as Garrow, but it is especially appealing to see the great Alun Armstrong again as Garrow’s friend and mentor, John Southouse. Armstrong is also currently one of the principal cast members of “New Tricks”. His character couldn’t be more different in that show.

GARROW’S LAW is an excellent series, only occasionally marred by striving to present an admittedly forward-thinking hero as just a little too much in synch with contemporary values. Still, there is much more to enjoy than there is to criticize.