Review: “Garrow’s Law”, 3rd Episode – “Let Them Eat Cake”

30 November, 2010 at 1:24 am 5 comments

Step right up, sit right down, you fair ladies and dashing gentlemen! Welcome to John Silvester’s Circus of Legal Absurdities! Don’t trust your eyes, don’t rely on your ears, and don’t trust Dr Graham’s Celestial Bed to improve your performance between the sheets!

And because I know my readers: James Graham headed from Scotland and was one of the first “sexologists”; notorious and famous alike, he was a rather colourful character who mixed science with spectacle. His most famous (and notorious) invention was probably the “Celestial Bed”. To quote Wikipedia:

“His “wonder-working edifice” was 12 by 9 feet (37 by 27 dm), and canopied by a dome covered in musical automata, fresh flowers, and a pair of live turtle doves. Stimulating oriental fragrances and “aethereal” gases were released from a reservoir inside the dome. A tilting inner frame put couples in the best position to conceive, and their movements set off music from organ pipes which breathed out “celestial sounds”, whose intensity increased with the ardour of the bed’s occupants. The electrified, magnetic creation was insulated by 40 cut glass pillars.

For more information, I recommend this book.

But back to Mr. Silvester (Aidan McArdle) and Mr. Garrow (Andrew Buchan). We’re off to a great start, and Mr. Silvester is enjoying himself far too much with the case of the Celestial Bed. So many opportunities for suggestive questions and salacious comments (not only about the case, but also about the scandal of the looming process against Garrow), so little time…

The Celestial Bed didn’t work – all that was standing at the end of the day was the hair of the female witness (probably not the intended effect), so Mr. Garrow’s client loses the process. That’s what you get for messing with other people’s marital bliss.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing blissful about the state and circumstances at Greenwich Hospital. Here, injured or retired naval servicemen and their families should find food and shelter, alas – alas, as it’s often the case with charity left to the government, charity starts with the government. Rather than serving people good, decent meat, they’re served horse meat  (looked more like steamed jellyfish to me, though).

That in itself is an insult in the 18th century, but the rations have also been reduced by fiddling with  the tin bowls, and we can only support Mr. Smith (Phil McKee) in his claim that this food is unfit for consumption.

It’s important to understand that we’re talking about seasoned seamen here. If men who have been at sea for ages, lived through storms and battles and food shortages complain about the quality of their meal, it means the food in question must be really, really bad.

Lieutenant Governor of Greenwich Hospital is Captain Baillie (Ron Cook). He’s a decent, seasoned seaman, and has a very simple directive for his life: being a good captain to his men, be it ashore or at sea. When the appalling conditions are brought to his attention, he doesn’t hesitate to petition the wishes of the men to the Admiralty. It’s not luxury the veterans want, just decent food and shelter.

The seamen have no clothes to wear (poor guys still wear blue breeches; those were abandoned in 1774…) and sleep on bare mattresses. But back then just as today, having risked your backside for your country is very likely to get you nothing but a swift kick up just the one. It becomes obvious very quickly that the seamen are cheated, and so the noble gentlemen get rid of Captain Baillie – after all, they have more important business to attend to – and promise that “all the complaints will be looked into”. Sure, sure…

Garrow is insulted that his courtroom nemesis Silvester uses his personal situation as a weapon to win a case, and tells him so. Silvester, clearly more streetwise and versed in human nature and society than Garrow, informs his rival that he’ll be the talk of town and every newspaper and printshop once his trial starts, so his own remarks would pale by comparison. Woohoo, good times ahead.

Garrow’s trial is also main topic of conversation between Sir Arthur Hill and the dastardly Mr. Farmer.

They agree on the damages they’ll sue Garrow for. How much? Hold on to your bonnets and tricorns: Sir Arthur wants ten thousand pounds! Even Mr. Garrow needs to take a seat upon hearing this sum.

Mr. Southouse (Alun Armstrong) correctly states that damages are aptly named, and that, in Garrow’s case, it’s less a matter of damage and rather one of decimation.

Let’s leave our dashing young hero to check his piggy bank, and have a look at the goings-on at Greenwich Hospital. Has anything happened? Of course not. Well, with exception of Charles Smith being kicked out of Greenwich Hospital along with his family, that is. Anybody surprised here? No? I thought so.

Smith accuses Captain Baillie of having failed his men. While he leaves to wander the streets with his family, Garrow and Sir Arthur (Rupert Graves) are both brooding in their respective hiding holes.

Lady Sarah (Lyndsey Marshal) comes to visit Garrow to inform him that Sir Arthur wishes to talk to her. Wait, didn’t we have this strict “no seeing, no meeting, no anything” policy? Isn’t it criminally stupid to meet without Mr. Southouse being present? Yes, of course it is. Never mind, Lady Sarah can’t believe that her husband really is as cruel as he is. I don’t know what it will take for her to change her mind – does the man have to eat kittens and juggle puppies?

And as we’re already talking about puppies…

Captain Baillie decides to take the whole matter one step further. Unfortunately, one step further than the hospital council means Sir Arthur Hill, who is now second secretary of the Admiralty. Just the man you’d want to deal with when it comes to justice and compassion!

The meeting goes about just as well as you can imagine, just like the following one between Sir Arthur Hill and Lady Sarah. Mr. Farmer (Anton Lesser) explains in great details and with obvious pleasure all the rights that Sir Arthur has and Lady Sarah hasn’t with regard of their child. But his lordship in his infinite lordliness allows his wife to write to her son (remember: a baby). How generous!

No more Mrs. Nice Hill, Arthur!

And no more Messrs. Nice Councillors, either. Annoyed by Captain Baillie’s petitions, the fine gentlemen remove him from his employment as Lieutenant Governor.

Captain Baillie accepts the decision, but informs the council that he will not let the case rest and make the facts known in print. Uh uh uh… “It’s malicious libel”, the Earl of Sandwich (Simon Dutton) declares. “But please keep my name out of it, because seriously, you guys, I have a career at stake here”.

You remember that bit about Lady Sarah and Garrow absolutely not being allowed, under any circumstances, to be seen together in public or elsewhere?

Oh, for crying out loud… a good thing Mr. Garrow takes up the case of Captain Baillie, which will hopefully keep him busy and away from walkies in the park.

Captain Baillie shows Garrow and Southouse how the men are cheated, demonstrating the trick with the tin bowl, which has been tampered with to shorten the rations.

Garrow promises to help the captain, but seeing how his opponent will be Sir Arthur Hill, Mr. Southouse fears that Garrow will make this a personal crusade rather than approaching the case from a professional point of view. The two start with their inquiries at Greenwich Hospital, but the men are too scared to say or do anything that could get them into trouble and share the fate of unfortunate Mr. Smith.

Still, Garrow and Southouse learn that the officers responsible for the welfare of the seamen at the hospital are landmen, which goes against the statutes of the charity, and that they all have been appointed by the Admiralty. A-ha!

While Garrow and Southouse continue their investigations, Sir Arthur contemplates the joys of having a healthy child and the advantages if his son was dead. Just hypothetically speaking, of course. Not that he was planning an infanticide or anything.

While we shudder in disgust and only refrain from throwing heavy objects at the telly because Sir Arthur is played by Rupert Graves, Mr. Southouse makes a most interesting discovery: every single man in office at the Greenwich Hospital is from the beautiful town of – Huntingdon.

*Theme of Twilight Zone*

This can’t be a coincidence, and so he heads for Huntingdon to investigate why this place produces so many employees at the hospital. Is it

A) the clean air?

B) The clear water?

C) The fresh, green meadows?

Or D), the local attorney?

Despite the friendly welcome, Mr. Southouse decides that he can’t stay for tea. He doesn’t need to, he’s learned all there is to know: the hospital grounds in Huntingdon, which supplied Greenwich Hospital with 1/3 of its revenue, have been given away. But why? And by whom? We’ll learn in due time.

For now, let’s see what a fantastic plan Mr. Farmer has come up with: he suggests to set up an affidavit for Lady Sarah, in which she confirms that Samuel is Garrow’s son, not her husband’s. In return for her signature, she’ll get custody of her child. That would be the perfect solution – Sir Arthur would be rid of the child and could get married, Lady Sarah would be reunited with her son and free to stay with her beloved, and Garrow would be completely ruined.

OK. Maybe not that fantastic a plan, after all.

Garrow and Southouse try to convince the seamen at Greenwich Hospital to speak in favour of Captain Baillie and talk about the rotten conditions. Alas, they are all afraid, so the dynamic duo decides to look for Charles Smith. He’s been kicked out of Greenwich Hospital and  has nothing to lose, seeing how he and his family have ended up in the workhouse.

Lady Sarah informs Garrow about Sir Arthur’s “generous offer”. She’s a mother, she’d do anything to get her child back, but Garrow isn’t really willing to be sacrificed on the altar of motherly love. The two have a fierce argument.

However, in the end, Garrow gives in and tells Lady Sarah to sign the affidavit, fully aware that his career is over and his reputation ruined.

Sir Arthur isn’t doing much better, though. One minute he’s celebrating his “victory” over Garrow, the next a messenger delivers a mysterious letter. Sir Arthur, clearly shocked by its content, takes his leave from his fellow politicians, wrecks Lady Sarah’s room and gets plastered.

I’d love to tell you why, but to be quite honest, even after the sixth replay I couldn’t really figure out what Sir Arthur was saying. A dark secret, a woman, bad company – does he have a mistress? Was he married before? We’ll find out next week, I suppose.

Meanwhile, Sir Arthur is not the only one who drowns his sorrows. Mr. Garrow has taken to the bottle as well, and I put it to you that he’s a more handsome drunk than Sir Arthur Hill.

Mr. Southouse has no sense for aesthetics, but he’s got common sense, so he advices his friend for the last time to separate himself from Lady Sarah.

However, nothing is so bad that Mr. Silvester couldn’t find a way to make it worse. The next day in court Garrow, hung-over and of low spirits, is targeted once again by his rival, who gleefully brings up the £ 10’000 in damages. A bad start for the trial against Captain Baillie.

The trial is tempestuous. Garrow and Southouse have done a good job with their investigations, and it soon comes to light that the good men of Huntingdon have profited at the expense of the seamen in Greenwich Hospital in every possible way. Horse meat was sold for the price of oxen, the rotten fish and sour beer also came from Huntingdon. But Garrow can’t keep his personal issues out of the process, and Silvester fans the flames to suit his own purposes. Events reach a peak when Garrow confronts Sir Arthur in the witness stand. It’s not about sour beer or veterans or Captain Baillie anymore – it’s about them. I was surprised nobody handed them pistols to settle the case there and then.

The case quickly spirals out of control. The Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, attending the process to see Captain Baillie be sent to prison and Garrow humiliated, finds himself accused of a serious crime. By giving the land in Huntingdon to the hospital officers – all of them coming from Huntingdon – they became freeholders. And freeholders may vote. Vote for the Earl of Sandwich. What started out as libel turns into a political scandal.

The sandwich’s gone bad.

While Garrow fights for Captain Baillie’s freedom with a fantastic speech that stirs the hearts of every person in the room (well, maybe with exception of Sir Arthur Hill), Lady Sarah comes to a decision. She returns the affidavit to Mr. Farmer – unsigned. She tells him where to stick it – politely, of course – and insist once again that she has not cheated on Sir Arthur with William Garrow. “I’ll bloody sign that affidavit!”

Quick, quick, somebody bring the smelling salts! Mr. Farmer is about to faint!

The process goes well for Captain Baillie. Garrow’s patriotic speech, full of compassion, respect and admiration for those serving in the Royal Navy, convinces the jury of his client’s innocence. With forced smiles Garrow and Southouse assure Captain Baillie that, of course, his future is bright and he’ll soon be employed again. But we all know that this is not true.

It’s depressing to see how little progress has been made in the last 200 odd years. It’s always the whistle blowers who lose their livelihoods, not corrupt politicians or incompetent hospital managers, be it Greenwich or NHS. But what can you expect if the controlled and the controllers are the same people? No matter what goes wrong, it’s always “we’ll look into it” and “we’ll check the procedures in place” and “there will be lessons learned”. Pull the other one, it’s got bells on it.

Mr. Farmer, recovered from his shock, turns up in court and makes strange comparisons between himself and Garrow. Up to that moment, I saw Farmer simply as the residential creep; a man who’d sell his mother for profit. But after his encounter with Garrow, I can’t help but feel that there’s more to his investment in this case than mere love for money. There’s something personal at stake for him. But what? Yet another puzzle that will hopefully be solved next week.

Farmer informs Garrow that Lady Sarah prepares to leave for France, and of course, keeping Mr. Southouse’s warnings to stay away from Lady Sarah in mind, dear William heads straight for her hotel. And because Mr. Southouse insisted that they may not, under any circumstances, be seen together…

Quite clearly, Mr. Southouse’s instructions have not been specific enough.

The episode ends with Sir Arthur welcoming a female visitor. According to the credits, it was Emma Davies as Lady Elizabeth Fox. Is there a connection with the letter that shocked him so?

We’ll all find out next week, and I’m already looking very much forward to seeing Samuel West as Thomas Erskine!

Of course, “Garrow’s Law” is not a 100% accurate portrayal of William Garrow. It’s not a documentary about his life, either. Cases have been merged, names changed, timelines played with, characters have been added or removed. Garrow’s moving speech in this episode, for example, was in reality held by Thomas Erskine.

But “Garrow’s Law” is excellent TV drama; in some parts excellently written historical fiction, played by very talented actors.  Four episodes are not enough, and neither are two series.

Why, yes, that’s a broad hint, BBC.


You’ll also find relevant links to the cases that inspired this episode there, along with explanations by Mark Pallis, legal and historical consultant of “Garrow’s Law”.

You can find plenty of additional information on all episodes on Mark Pallis’ blog:


Do you want to learn more about the Royal Navy in the 18th century?


Or hey – simply read my blog! Everything’s neatly sorted in the “categories”.


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

TV Tip: Tomorrow, “Garrow’s Law” will tackle the Admiralty (9pm, BBC1) Books: “The Radiant Boy” by Emma Collingwood is now available worldwide! #ageofsail

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Garrowfan  |  30 November, 2010 at 11:46 am

    It’s always a pleasure to read your comments!
    I could not agree more about the quality of this series.

    I’m looking forward to the last episode –hoping there will be more!!

  • 2. Garrowfan  |  30 November, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Btw–my bet is on bigamy—

    • 3. Molly  |  3 December, 2010 at 12:31 am

      That was one of the theories I’ve been thinking through as well. Or a mistress, blackmail… why isn’t it Sunday yet!

  • […] Episode 3: “Let them eat Cake” […]

  • 5. Katie  |  23 January, 2012 at 3:51 am

    Thank you for your review of the episodes! I am in the U.S. and finally able to watch, but couldn’t figure out why Sir Arthur was writhing around on the floor.


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