Review: “Garrow’s Law”, BBC1: Episode 3 – The Killing of the Mighty Squash

16 November, 2009 at 10:36 pm 4 comments

The excellent third episode of “Garrow’s Law” confirmed what we already assumed: Mr. Garrow might be the upcoming star on the stage of the Old Bailey, but in all other aspects of his life, he is – with all due respect – not the brightest candle on the candlestick.

Garrow handles challenges – be they of a professional (Silvester) or romantical (Lady Sarah) nature – like a  petulant child. But temper tantrums and hurt vanities will neither pave the way to a lasting career nor win a woman’s heart, so maybe Lady Sarah should rather have whacked her pigheaded firebrand on the head with her fan than kissed him. Then again, who could blame her.

Garrow (Andrew Buchan) defends the detestable Edgar Cole (James Bradshaw) on a charge of raping a servant girl (Josie Farmiloe), much to the disappointment of Lady Sarah (Lyndsey Marshal). She confronts Garrow, and Silvester (Aidan McArdle) senses the intimacy between them. His insinuation offends Garrow and he challenges Silvester to a duel. He also comes up against his old nemesis Edward Forrester (Steven Waddington) over the case of a stolen box of lace. Garrow seeks help from Southouse (Alun Armstrong), but will his close friendship with Lady Sarah cost him his association with his dear mentor?

“Garrow’s Law” made it into the Top 50 of the UK iTunes downloads last week, and it’s clear to see why: it’s excellently written, acted, directed and researched drama with just the right pinch of romance and humour to make it appealing to a wide audience. It’s set in the 18th century, yes – but there are neither dust nor cobwebs – and you may take that literally. This is one of the cleanest versions of 18th century London I’ve ever seen. Even the off-all thrown at the culprit in the stocks seems to come straight from the farmers’ market.

William Garrow has reached a crossroad in his life – will his future actions be guided by principles or purposes? The audience better be prepared for its loyalties to be challenged: it’s not so much Garrow’s decision to defend rapist Edgar Cole per se which makes us frown, it’s the perfidious way in which he leads the victim on. He’s willingly sacrificing the poor girl for his own success; friendly, understanding, compassionate, he talks to the girl as you would to a frightened child – but he only has one target: freedom for his client, whom he knows to be guilty. Great acting by Andrew Buchan here, but Lady Sarah isn’t amused; actually, she’s outraged and not holding back in telling a flabbergasted Garrow what she thinks of him. By the end of the trial, one’s disgusted with the hero and sides with Silvester; this sure speaks for the quality of the writing. Nothing is ever black and white here.

It’s a pity there’s only one episode left, for now the characters are established and we learn more about them, their motivations and interactions. Mr. Southouse got himself new teeth – five guinees each, imagine! – but what loving husband wouldn’t happily sacrifice such an amount to keep his wife happy? Southouse is a wonderful character, and his portrayal by Alun Armstrong superb. Southouse and Garrow have very much a father/son relationship, and there’s great chemistry between them. It sure looked like Southouse secretly enjoyed teaching Garrow, who foolishly challenged Silvester to a duel, how to use a duelling pistol, even though he didn’t agree with the duel itself. Garrow, being his usual humble self, completely overestimates his abilities as a marksman while underestimating Silvester’s determination to teach him a lesson. The outcome is both humiliating and painful for Garrow.

Lady Sarah, not impressed with Garrow’s juvenile attempts at “defending” her honour, has to deal with a jealous husband, and she handles the situation very well, given the circumstances. Unlike the way women are usually portrayed in dramas set in that period, she’s very capable, confident and straightforward. A refreshing perspective, and if you look at the achievements of some women in the 18th century, it’s not an unrealistic one. Just because history was written by men doesn’t mean women had no part in making it!

It’s obvious Lady Sarah’s drawn to Garrow, but neither her conscience nor her sense of loyalty for her husband allow her to act upon her feelings beyond a kiss – for now. Her actions are far more rational and mature than Garrow’s, and she’s the one in charge. How things would go if Sir Arthur should act in a manner that betrayed his wife’s sense of loyalty and justice remains to be seen, though. Luckily, Sir Arthur isn’t portrayed as a cruel, unbearable ogre of a husband; a trope unfortunately found in many period dramas. He’s quite forward in asking her if he was a cuckold, without yelling and drama.

While things are getting pear-shaped in the Hill-household, Garrow is taking great pleasure in suffering. Southouse calls his injury a mere nick in the arm, but Garrow’s quick to point out that it’s a “most painful one”. May the Gods prevent this man from ever catching a cold; he’d be unsufferable. Lady Sarah visits him to see how he’s doing, and things go as they tend to go in such situations.

As a consequence, it dawns to Southouse what, or rather, who the actual reason for the duel was. He’s both disappointed and angry with his young protégé for deceving him; this does not bode well for the future. However, despite his personal problems (not to mention his “most painful” injury!), Garrow is butting heads in court with Forrester, the corrupt thieftaker we’ve already encountered before. Unfortunately, Garrow’s focus is more on his dislike for Silvester and his feelings for Lady Sarah, so things don’t go well for the unfortunate couple of thieves that were paid by Forrester to rob a lace shop, only to find themselves not only arrested, but also blamed for the murder of the shopkeeper’s grandson.

Though Garrow manages to at least save the lives of his clients and finally expose Forrester’s evil deeds, he falls out with well-meaning Southouse due to his arrogance and hot temper, deeply disappointing and hurting his fatherly friend. By the end of the episode, William Garrow’s about as popular as the swine flu.

Watch the latest episode of “Garrow’s Law” on the BBC iPlayer

Buy episodes of “Garrow’s Law” on iTunes

Read Mark Pallis’ entry about the real cases which inspired this episode

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Entry filed under: 18th century, garrow's law, resource, tv. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Garrow’s Law: FAQ – servants and beards and wigs, oh my! Emma Collingwood: “Lieutenant Samuel Blackwood (deceased)” on sale!

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Justine Elyot  |  17 November, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Hello, just wanted to say how much I’m enjoying your commentary on this series (and the lovely screencaps). I think it’s a cut above a lot of period drama, in the writing and the way audience expectations are often bucked – his cross-examination in the rape case being a prime example. I like that he’s portrayed as a complex character with a long list of faults – not a ‘hero’ as such. And the duel was v funny. If only there were more than four episodes, alas.

    Reply
    • 2. joyfulmolly  |  17 November, 2009 at 2:39 pm

      Thank you! glad to hear you had fun with it. Just like you, I like the ambivalent nature of the characters; being surprised is half the fun. I fully agree that four episodes are not enough; it took two to establish the characters. Six should have been the minimum, but better four than nothing. Don’t give up hope for a second season yet, though – the show is doing well.

      Reply
  • […] 1 –  Episode 2 –  Episode 3 –  Episode […]

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  • […] Episode 3: “The Killing of the Mighty Squash” […]

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