Trial & Retribution Volumes 5-8 Review
For those who have not heard of Trial & Retribution before, I direct you back to my review of the previous DVD box set, which contained episodes 1-4. As far as a brief overview goes, Trial & Retribution is an occasional murder mystery series written by the extremely prolific Lynda LaPlante that generally airs one three-hour story per year, taking the rather unique approach of dramatizing all the main aspects of the case - including the perpetration of the crime, the hunt for the killer, and the court case - whereas other similar shows tend to place the emphasis on only one of these stages. That's the theory, at least, and the first couple of episodes did a remarkably good job of sticking to that formula. As the show has gone on, however, it has perhaps unsurprisingly come to more closely resemble its counterparts like Waking the Dead and Prime Suspect, giving the lion's share of the screen time to the hunt for the killer and sidelining the other two stages. Trial & Retribution has always, however, remained somewhat more stylish in its appearance than other British crime dramas, thanks mainly to the rather innovative use of split-screen which is, for the most part, actually employed to good effect. With the release of this box set, all eight episodes to have aired are now available on DVD, although it is known that a ninth installment is due to show up on TV later this year.
The four episodes in the previous release centred around the relationship of loose cannon DCS Mike Walker (David Hayman) and the strait-laced DI Pat North (Kate Buffery), and this same dynamic remains for the first two episodes of this set. Events at the end of the second episode, however, remove North from the picture, and for the remaining two episodes Walker finds himself sparring with DCI Roisin Connor (Victoria Smurfitt), a young, hard-edged "career cop" who, unlike most of Walker's subordinates, will not be bullied into submission. Their dynamic is interesting, particularly because Walker is such a maverick who finds himself at a complete loss when confronted by the "new face" of the Met, but it does dilute the formula to some extent and brings the series closer to any number of other cop shows teaming an aging loose cannon up with a young go-getter. For all its flaws, however, this change does make sense, given that the preceding episodes had had to resort to more and more suspension of disbelief in an attempt to get both Walker and North involved in the same case each time.
One of the ways in which Trial & Retribution differs from other cop shows is in that the identity of the killer is rarely in much doubt. Although a number of suspects tend to come into the frame, there are only ever a couple of serious contenders, and they are usually identifiable as the most charismatic individual. In episodes 6 and 7, therefore, it is not hard to work out that Tim McInnerny and Charles Dance will somehow be involved in duplicitous dealings. The real fun, of course, comes from seeing the evidence being pieced together that leads to their downfall. After all, it's all very well to suspect someone, but when not a single shred of evidence will stand up there's not very much you can do. Walker, of course, would absolutely love to lock up every single individual who rubs him the wrong way (as most of the people he investigates tend to do), and a lot of the fun is derived from watching him struggle against a system that seems to have been designed purely to aggravate him. Of course, as the sixth episode shows, he is not above taking the law into his own hands, with disastrous consequences.
Trial & Retribution V
A decayed skeleton is discovered buried in the garden of a derelict house, and what at first seems like a routine case for Walker soon becomes increasingly complex as more skeletons are discovered, including that of a newborn baby. Complicating matters is the fact that the building was used as a guest house, with its many occupants scattered all over the country and, in some cases, the globe. North, meanwhile, struggles to come to terms with her recent miscarriage.
Trial & Retribution V was directed by Aisling Walsh, who also helmed the first two episodes of the series and played an important role in determining its distinct look. Unsurprisingly, therefore, this episode is tonally the closest to the way the series started out, with some excellent moving camera shots, inspired use of splitscreen and imaginative sound design turning would could have been a fairly mundane story into something much deeper. Script-wise, this episode is something of a tangled web, the murders spanning several years and with a huge number of different suspects. As usual, the perpetrator's identity becomes quite obvious fairly early on, but there is more to this one than meets the eye, and the final revelations are quite shocking.
Trial & Retribution VI
A young mother disappears while out walking in a local wood, and for once Walker ends up with a suspect fairly quickly: Bob Brickman (Ivan Kaye), a known sex offender who turns himself in and is able to provide, in minute detail, a convincing account of the abduction and murder of the woman. As the case prepares to go to court, Walker is convinced that there is more to it than meets the eye, but he soon finds himself distracted by family problems: the arrival of his no-good brother Jimmy (Stevan Rimkus) who ran off to New Zealand years ago to avoid jail, and the increasingly disturbing behaviour of his ex-wife's new boyfriend, the mysterious "Eric" (Tim McInnerny).
The last episode to follow the original Walker/North paradigm, the sixth installment is an extremely convoluted affair with several different stories going on at once: the case of the missing woman, the increasing insanity of Tim McInnerny's character, the story of Walker's brother, and the final breakdown of Walker and North's relationship. As a result of this, the primary case is frequently sidelined, and the final revelation of the killer (one of the series' more surprising, by the way) almost feels like a throwaway. Still, this is a tour de force of acting and plotting, with David Hayman and Tim McInnerny giving stand-out performances, and LaPlante's script brilliantly sets in place the elements that eventually lead to a shocking turn of events that could have long-lasting implications for Walker's career.
Trial & Retribution VII: Suspicion
Two seemingly unconnected events - the discovery of a severed female hand in the River Thames, and the disappearance of a woman, Diana Harwood (Simone Bowkett) - become unexpectedly linked, uncovering a complex conspiracy intended to make sure that Diana Harwood is believed to still be alive. Walker, meanwhile, finds himself back in uniform as a result of his recent misdemeanours, and forced to take orders from an overly smug DCI Roisin Connor, a former lackey of his who greatly relishes the opportunity to get her own back.
For the first one-third of this episode, the case in question seems almost mundane, but Suspicion proves to be a slow starter that builds into one of the strongest cases of the series. Charles Dance is terrific and, surprise surprise, quickly becomes the prime suspect, and the series of clues, which initially seem trivial, are expertly laid out. This episode (and the next), however, is let down by the fact that DCI Connor is one of the most unlikeable protagonists ever to grace a detective series. While Inspectors Morse and Frost are curmudgeonly but likeable in their respective series, Connor is simply hard-nosed and snooty, and for once it's easy to sympathize with Walker who, in his new role in uniform, must put up with being ordered about and belittled by a woman who has, in his own words, "flown up the ranks like a fart".
Trial & Retribution: Blue Eiderdown
A young prostitute plunges to hear death from a balcony, her body arranged in a remarkably similar way to that of her mother, murdered many years prior. DCI Connor takes charge of the case, but finds herself hounded every step of the way by a newly promoted Walker, who has been ordered to keep a close watch over developments. The reason for this soon becomes clear, and it involves a luxurious S&M club that operates outside the law and is frequented by a number of important figures, including the former head of Clubs & Vice.
Comfortably the weakest episode of the entire series, one gets the impression that the array of dildos, masks and handcuffs paraded before us, along with frequent mention of golden showers and slow-motion footage of people humping, are meant to be shocking. This is clearly the work of a middle-aged, middle-class writer thinking she is being edgy and outrageous; however, the end result feels tacky and shows all the restraint of an oversexed teenager. (Not that I have anything against middle-aged, middle-class writers or oversexed teenagers, as both can be absolutely charming - it's just that the two don't make for the best combination.) At only 139 minutes, this episode is nearly an hour shorter than the other installments, and it shows: the plot is confusing and bitty, and the final verdict is not even remotely satisfying. This episode does take the time to delve into Connor's mind, but the revelations are not particularly original (hard-nosed cop discovers a hidden penchant for dishing out the pain in a literal sense). It also suffers from an annoying over-abundance of handheld camerawork, resulting in a hyperkinetic, jittery look and feel that, much like the subject matter, seems to be the result of trying too hard to be edgy and "current".
All four episodes were shot in widescreen, and as a result are presented here anamorphically in a ratio of 1.78:1. For the most part, these transfers are very good indeed. The series was shot on 16mm film, and as a result looks quite grainy at times, which can lead to moderate artefacting, but on the whole these episodes look significantly better than they did when I watched them on over-compressed digital cable TV. The various split-screen shots maintain a high level of detail, despite the fact that multiple small "windows" are often on the screen at once, and while there is some edge enhancement, I suspect that people will have few quibbles with the image quality of this set overall.
The audio is serviceable Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, which is somewhat odd because the episodes carry a "Dolby Surround" logo at the start, strongly suggesting that the show was meant to be surround-encoded. The quality is absolutely fine, however, and there are some interesting split-channel effects, especially in the various split-screen sequences. The lack of surround encoding and subtitles of any kind does hurt the audio score overall, but there are few, if any, major problems on display in this department.
Volume 1 didn't fare too well in terms of bonus features, including only trailers and a Lynda LaPlante interview. This set does a little better, showcasing interviews with David Hayman, Victoria Smurfitt and Colin Salmon (who played the S&M tycoon in Episode 8). The Hayman interview is spread across discs 1 and 2, and proves to be quite interesting as he discusses both his career up until now and his impressions of the character he plays. Victoria Smurfitt also talks about her character, and spends quite a bit of time getting quite excited about the scene in Episode 7 where she got to ride a helicopter. The Colin Salmon interview is an odd inclusion, given that he is the only guest star to receive such treatment. To be honest I would have been far more interested in hearing what Kate Buffery had to say about her character, but given that there is no mention of her at all on the packaging of this release, and only a couple of very small photographs, I can't help thinking that there are some dodgy goings-on here. Perhaps her departure from the show was less than amicable?
Also included are the usual array of trailers, for all except Episode 8, which instead has a brief behind the scenes reel showing the production of the elaborate stunt involving the dead prostitute falling from a balcony and landing on a car. Episodes 5 and 8 also display brief introductions by David Hayman and Colin Salmon respectively when they are played. A neat touch, but they are essentially a watch-once affair and is becomes annoying having to sit through them every time you try to play the episode.
Trial & Retribution Volumes 5-8 is a decent enough box set that showcases the more imaginative side of British detective drama. While the final episode isn't really up to scratch, the first three are of a high enough standard to warrant a purchase of this set, and the audio-visual presentation is decent enough to encourage throwing away any recordings of the show from TV. Recommended.