Review: “Garrow’s Law”, BBC1: Episode 4 -“Will Success Spoil William Garrow?”

24 November, 2009 at 2:41 am 6 comments

If the BBC doesn’t commission a second series of this brilliant show, I shall take my scissors and use the TV licence to cut a silhouette of Mr. Southouse.

The fourth and (so far) last episode of “Garrow’s Law” dealt with autoerotic asphyxia, angel lust and mentions of self-mutilation, all in the first two minutes of the programme. Add to that the uncomfortable tale of the government’s actions against 18th century (assumed) terrorism and freedom of expression, and you’ll find that laws might change, but human nature won’t.

William Garrow (Andrew Buchan) continues to defend the victims of rough justice when he wins the case of  Susannah Wagstaffe (Rebecca Palmer), a prostitute accused of murdering a client.

Garrow and Southouse’s (Alun Armstrong) association is still strained until a desperate Mary Hamer (Kate Dickie) arrives in Southouse’s office, begging for Garrow to defend her husband. Joseph Hamer (Paul Hilton) has been languishing in Newgate Prison without charge for many months after being arrested on suspicion of sedition. Joseph’s case is followed closely by the Secretary of State, Viscount Melville (Stephen Boxer), and Sir Arthur Hill (Rupert Graves), who engineer charges of high treason against him.

Lady Sarah (Lyndsey Marshal) admits to a devastated Garrow that they have no future together. After learning of her husband’s role in the plot against Joseph Hamer, she intervenes and the trial takes a surprising turn.

Episode four started with a Pythonesque scene in which Garrow tries to find a delicate wording for the fact that prostitute Susannah Wagstaffe’s  client died by autoerotic asphyxia. By means of a length of cord. Valued at 1 penny. Silvester (Aidan McArdle) obviously enjoys Garrow’s awkward struggle, and even Judge Buller awakes from his nap. After listening to Garrow muttering cryptical explanations about “centrical and critical parts” and “expressively evident results”, Buller ends Garrow’s suffering by stating that “the cock was upstanding,” a great deadpan delivery by Michael Culkin. Blushing barristers – you’ll only find them on the BBC.

The charge is dismissed and Miss Wagstaffe, dressed in the cleanest rags I’ve ever seen, is free to go. For one because there really wasn’t a case in the first place, as her client’s death was neither suicide nor murder, and for the other because Garrow convinced Judge Buller that this case, should it become public, could “corrupt the moral climate and encourage the depraved part of mankind to seeking similar indecent stimulatives”. One has to wonder what Mr. Garrow’s thoughts on “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here!” would be.

While Mr. Garrow has to turn Miss Wagstaffe’s offer for non-monetary expression of gratitude down, Mr. Southouse is confronted by Mary Hamer, the wife of one Joseph Hamer who sits in Newgate, without any charges being made against him. Southouse tries to explain to Mrs. Hamer that he and Garrow have parted ways, and that he can’t do anything for her until charges against her husband have been made. A classical Catch-22.

Having escaped Miss Wagstaffe, Garrow is cornered by Sir Arthur Hill, who states that he has to satisfy himself that there’s no animosity between the two of them. Very noble, but basically, he’s just there to brag that his wife Sarah is carrying his child. In Garrow’s place, I’d been sorely tempted to ask “Pray tell, good Sir, would you herald this news if it wasn’t your child?”, but Mr. Garrow’s manners are better than mine. He puts on a brave face while Sir Arthur prances off, leaving a trail of smugness behind him.

However, Garrow wouldn’t be Garrow if he would consider insignificant details like husbands and children as obstacles on his way to happiness. His meeting with Lady Sarah reminded me at times of the final scene in “Some like it hot” (“But Osgood, I’m a man!” “Don’t worry, darling. Nobody’s perfect.”) – the word “no” doesn’t exist in Garrow’s emotional dictionary. He asks Sarah to leave her husband, and enthusiastically confirms that he’d be very willing to play father to Sir Arthur’s child. Very romantic, very noble, but quite clearly, Garrow has no idea of the consequences such a scandal would cause. Lady Sarah, probably aware that leaving her husband to stay with Garrow would have her looking after two children rather than one, tells Garrow that they have no future and leaves him behind, heartbroken.

At the local coffeehouse, Garrow bumps into Southouse, and seizes the opportunity to apologise. “Garrowpology” should be a real word, meaning a sortofnotreallythenagainmaybe apology. “It was partially my fault. Well, most of it. OK, entirely my fault. I regret it. Well, sort of. Actually, not really.” It takes a man with a heart of gold and the patience of a saint to work with Garrow – luckily for our dashing young hero, Southouse is such a man. The two are interrupted by angry Mrs. Hamer and in following, the meeting of the “London Corresponding Society” she attends is busted by the messenger of the Secretary of the State. Garrow and Southouse work together once again to save Mrs. Hamer from prison. However, they do so the Southouse-way, which might be less spectacular that Garrow’s, but still effective, a fact Garrow grumpily admits. I absolutely loved Southouse’s sarcastic way of putting Garrow in his place. Eh, I love Southouse, period.

Now things are really getting started, with Mr. Hamer being charged – only what for, Garrow and Southouse won’t learn before the actual trial.

For the first time, the so-far only hinted political conspiracies behind the scenes become visible, and Garrow connects the dots. This is not about Mr. Hamer’s supposed crime, it’s about people with power not wanting to share it. The Hamers of this world, with their justified demands for equal representation and rights are a danger to the status quo, and Garrow notes quite correctly that Hamer’s case is played out in the shadow of the guillotine. There’s this enormous fear of political and social changes, of a revolution. Men like Joseph Hamer are feared and therefore have to be shut up and locked up. If that means to infiltrate meetings with spies, buy witnesses or plant evidence, so be it.

Sir Arthur Hill, this becomes evident in this episode, is not a man without conscience. He doesn’t feel comfortable with the actions of his peers, but he fears to lose all he has and is, not realising that he might lose his wife if he doesn’t make the right decision.

I don’t want to give away the content and the outcome of the trial, because it would ruin the enjoyment of the excellent courtroom confrontation between Garrow and Sir John Scott (Peter Symonds), the pompous, overbearing Attorney General who manages to prattle on for hours and makes judges, witnesses, the accused, the jury and even Garrow fall asleep. Hamer is charged for high treason – a completely unexpected move, and the prospect of being hanged, drawn and quartered is not a pleasant one. Even less pleasant is the prospect that this case, should Hamer be found guilty, will effectively mean the end of personal freedom. Already a list with 800 names exists – 800 names of people who’d share Hamer’s fate. One name on the list is Garrow’s.

“The Crown versus Hamer” is courtroom drama at its best. Gripping, touching, funny, sad, scary – a rollercoaster of emotions, not least because there are so many parallels to the present political and social situation. Garrow feels the temptation of power and money; he receives an offer that would mean a stellar career, but at the cost of moral bankruptcy. As much as I wanted to be sure that he’d turn the offer down – I wasn’t. Again, excellent acting by Andrew Buchan; I was kept on the edge of my seat until the very last moment.

And while there’s no true resolution for the love between Garrow and Lady Sarah in the end, there’s hope. I think it’s the first time in TV history that a glass of water melted my TV set!

So, what to make of “Garrow’s Law?” THE GUARDIAN offers an in-depth analysis of “Garrow’s Law”, it’s entertainment value and the quality of acting as well as- heh. Joke. No, this is about something important – the presence of a gavel in the courtroom.  Spotting small historical inaccuracies is part of the fun in costume drama, but I’d be on the same page with the author if we’d talk about fundamental mistakes which completely distort our perception of history.

From that point of view, the absence of dirt would seem to be the greater offense than the presence of a gavel. But though I’m all for authenticity, I’d found it very distracting if Silvester and Garrow had scratched their heads every other minute due to the lice in their wigs. The clerk fumigating the court before every trial made it clear that, by Jove, fumigation was needed! “Garrow’s Law” is “Tales from the Old Bailey”, not “100% accurate presentation of legal history in the 18th century”. It might come as a surprise, but we, the audience, are smart enough to tell the difference.

What some journalists don’t seem to understand is the one core achievement of “Garrow’s Law”: it’s not the quality entertainment, the ratings or the pleasant sight of Andrew Buchan in a velvet coat (though I freely admit that I quite enjoyed the view) – this show took Sir William Garrow from the backshelf of history, dusted him off and put his great achievements in the limelight. In our modern unculture of fear and mistrust, we need to be reminded that the rights we enjoy weren’t there since the beginning of times, and that we should never take them for granted.

And now some links which might be of interest to you:

will release a biography of Sir William Garrow by the end of November:

And the good news of the day:

It will be released on 4 January, 2010, and I’ve already placed an order.

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

I got an award! And I’d like to recommended some blogs and journals Molly Joyful’s Joyful Yuletide Contest!

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Liz Hanbury  |  24 November, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Hi there JM,

    Have enjoyed all your posts (and screencaps ;0) ) on Garrow’s Law and completely agree that Auntie Beeb should commission a second series. I’ve emailed them already! Kudos to everyone involved in bringing Garrow’s Law to the screen.

    LOL at your comment about the glass of water – a fabulous moment in an altogether fabulous series.

    Garrow’s Law and Amanda Vickery’s recent radio 4 programme A History of Private Life have been worth this year’s licence fee alone.

    best wishes

    • 2. joyfulmolly  |  24 November, 2009 at 10:56 pm

      Thank you! Writing the reviews was great fun; I usually only do reviews of text books. I sure hope the BBC will get lots of feedback – and listen to the audience for a change! Looking at the reviews and people’s enthusiasm for the show, I can’t see any reason why there shouldn’t be a second season.

      I loved the glass-of-water-scene. Woof! Now what a great bit of luck I had the smelling salt close by… 😉

  • […] Episode 1 –  Episode 2 –  Episode 3 –  Episode 4 […]

  • 4. esteven  |  23 March, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Episode completely floored me on first viewing…and I viewed it several times since. Admittedly the opening trial had me in stitches and the blush was the cutest thing ever

    But as I am also a very shallow, and so my first thoughts on seeing Viscount Melville were ‘So much for Hen’s dad!’. My second thoughts were that I adored Amstrong even more in this series than when I saw him first on stage in 1985 as Ténardier.

    And now I want to order the DVD of the second series. Why does the Beeb take so long?

    Many happy Easter bunnies to you.

    • 5. Molly Joyful  |  25 March, 2010 at 10:39 pm

      😀 @ “Hen’s dad”! Did you like this version of Melville, btw.?

      It’s a great episode. If the BBC doesn’t announce the second series soon, there will be a situation here.

      Alun Armstrong is fantastic. I like Southouse as much as Garrow (while everybody else adores Sylvester… grumble); curious to see Mrs. Southouse at some point, he seems to be very fond of her (new teeth and all!)

  • […] Episode 4: “Will Success spoil William Garrow?” […]


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