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Showtrial - Review

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Bristol. A young woman is found murdered – and Talitha Campbell, a close friend, a girl from an upper-class family with absolutely no filter – is pulled in for questioning due to her suspected involvement in her death. The media and the police both believe Talitha is the only suspect – but the question is, is she guilty? Did she really kill her friend? This is the premise for the Ben Richards-created Showtrial drama, from the producers of big event television like Vigil and Line of Duty, so you can expect big swings with its narrative, lots of “no comment”-style interview scenes and fast paced, unpredictable drama from the start – it’s richly compelling, multi-layered and multi-textualized to boot, bringing with it plenty of recommendations for those looking for another excellent thriller to add to their watchlist this year.

The show sets up who the major players are pretty quickly – it spans from Talitha’s arrest to the verdict of the jury as the case gradually escalates and becomes more complex from a simple arrest. The story has already started and the characters very much have their own lives and are well-established when you meet them, but the series does an excellent job at challenging preconceived notions of class and who people are – multiple times you’ll be left thinking did Talitha really kill her friend, if not, who did – and then your suspicion will go back to Talitha again – always lingering – the answer never truly predictable with multiple red herrings being thrown in left right and centre, Showtrial does a brilliant job at maximising all the potential from an unreliable narrator too – in fact, it has more than one of them – although we only see the crime in flashbacks as the police and those involved put the pieces together, the series handles them with a Rashomon-esque narrative reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel that aired in cinemas earlier this year – a contemporary narrative that will handle the themes of the film so much better than any planned American remake of Rashomon (yes, there’s one in the works), would.

Part of that is on the performances of the actors – Celine Buckens is phenomenal, approaching her character who does not have any filter with the apparent glee at tackling a complex role such as this one. She says things without realising what they would mean, and why should she care? All her life she’s lived without fear of repercussion. Buckens also starred in both Bridgerton and Warrior, but this is the first role where she’s really been centre-stage, and she has that star quality to her that allows her to scenery-chew the most emotional scenes, acting as a real contrast to the quieter, more experienced lawyer – Cleo Roberts, played by the equally excellent Tracy Ifeachor, who takes the case before her father can get involved. Much of the early narrative is built around whether Talitha will pick Cleo as her lawyer or whether she’ll go back to her father’s choices – and what that will mean as to the public perception of her in the trial, this is a very hot-button, on-the-minute crime drama with several references to real-world affairs and consequences that have happened even months ago. Sometimes the comparisons work better than others – and the dialogue itself too, ranges from firing to heavily lazy – for example, a notable offender early on is where one of the characters who has the name Troy is pinpointed as being from Birmingham because he has a Birmingham sounding name.

It is refreshing to see a BBC crime drama take place outside of the inner halls of London, and Showtrial, much like with Stephen Merchant’s The Outlaws, makes excellent use of the city of Bristol – only a few miles up the road from where I live (there has been some great South-West representation lately when you consider ITV’s The Long Call, too). Its on-location shooting makes the city feel alive and lived in, and you experience all corners of its social circles – from the rich elite dancefloors to the university lifestyle and to the gritty police cells. The BBC have been very good at making British crime dramas feel more representative of what Britain is a whole lately – and the move away from London feels like a welcome one.

Being just a one and done series, Showtrial has a clear beginning – middle and end. In an age of the 8 episode streamers still feeling too long, its shorter length feels like a blessing, easily bingeable but like Vigil and Line of Duty, it works just as well when watched weekly, with enough plot twists to keep you guessing and on edge right the way through until the end. Whatever your method of choice – it’s a must-see.

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