PD James: A Certain Justice by stdepue



"P.D. James -- A Certain Justice," a crime drama, was released in 1999 as a three part
television serial, based on "A Certain Justice," a standalone by the celebrated, successful
British mystery author, Baroness James, better known as P.D. James. In the United
States, it ran on many Public Television stations. The TV serial stars an older-looking
Roy Marsden, 15 years into playing the author's best-known character, Commander
Adam Dalgleish, sensitive poet/homicide detective, who solves most of her intelligent,
complex, atmospheric mysteries. However, the drama was made not by the British
Broadcasting Corporation with its generous funds, but rather by Anglia for ITV, which
may go to explain the fact that very few of the players are of the well-known, expensive
kind. In this courtroom drama, you may only recognize Ian McNiece and Frederick
Trewes among the attorneys. And many of the players that surround Marsden are not as
expressive as they might be; although, as a matter of trivial interest, Sarah Winman, who
played Kate Miskin, is now a best-selling novelist on the strength of her first book,
WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT, which, oddly enough, I’ve also reviewed for Amazon.

The TV series follows the novel closely. It centers on Venetia Aldridge, QC, as played by
the Glasgow-born Phyllida Law, actress in ARRIETTY and ALBERT NOBBS; director
of THE IRON LADY and MAMMA MIA. At any rate, we can tell that the barrister
Venetia is a star of the British legal system because as the action begins, she's defending
a murder case in London's historic Old Bailey courthouse, in the hallowed Courtroom I.
We're also told by many of her fellow barristers that she's a win at any costs kind of gal, a
fact the opening makes clear. She wins acquittal for her client Gary Ashe, one of the most
villainous- and psychotic-looking, smirking, unlikable defendants you will ever see.
(Although her victory comes as a result of one of the hoariest devices of courtroom
drama, the old lady witness who needs new glasses.) However, in what must surely be a
repeating nightmare for this sort of attorney, with this sort of client, Ashe is no sooner off
the hook than he schemes to get acquainted with Venetia’s dumb, snippy, hard-to-take
daughter Octavia, who's just dropped out of convent school. The young couple's doings
will be the major subplot driving the film to its suspenseful conclusion.

Venetia, who has her chambers in one of London's historic Inns of Court, is all-around
abrasive. In her professional life, to her fellow attorneys and the chambers' staff; in her
personal life to her housekeeper, her daughter, and her married lover, who's itching to end
the affair. One morning she's found dead, stabbed with her own letter opener. The
murderer, or another party, has placed a judge's wig on her head, and spilled a third
party's blood over her. When Dalgleish is called to investigate, he has an embarrassment
of candidates to consider.

The acting is good, and Marsden is still finding nuances in Dalgleish. Mood and
atmosphere are nicely set. The Inns of Court are portrayed in all their Dickensian glory,
black robes, wigs and all. As a matter of fact, at one point Venetia verbally abuses a
chambers' clerk, telling him that if Dickens were to return, that famous Victorian writer
would recognize the dilatory employee.
In the manner of many British mystery shows, the episodes move slowly, no car chases to
wake us up. The series is dark in its outlook, a downer, the three main characters, almost
all the characters, are unlikable, and it's hard to care much about them. Furthermore, it's
probable that none of the murders we are presented, particularly Venetia's, will ever come
to court, giving us an emotionally unsatisfying ending in which, echoing the irony of the
work’s title, only a rough justice is achieved.

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