TV preview: Silk

Silk's Billy, Martha Costello QC and Clive Reader.
Silk's Billy, Martha Costello QC and Clive Reader.
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British TV viewers seem to love nothing more than a good crime drama.

Programmes such as Broadchurch, Inspector George Gently and DCI Banks regularly do well in the ratings, but they tend to concentrate on what happens when the culprits are caught - we rarely see what happens to them after that. Law & Order: UK manages to straddle both the investigation and the prosecution, but without the depth legal drama fans probably crave.

Kavanagh QC did delve into that side of things, but few series since then have managed it - until Silk made its debut in 2011.

We’re thrilled to see it back for a third series, and with its original stars, Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones, still on board. Both are in-demand (Peake has also turned to writing recently - her first play, Beryl: A Love Story on Two Wheels, will open at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds in June), so it wouldn’t have been a major shock if they were too busy to participate in Peter Moffat’s acclaimed drama.

Her character, Martha, is thrown into the thick of things as soon as the new series begins when she’s asked to defend the son of the head of chambers who has been arrested for killing a police officer - and as the evidence stacks up against him, her job seems to get increasingly difficult.

Maxine has played both criminals and lawyers during her career, and is very clear about which is the more challenging role.

“It’s much more interesting being in front of the court,” she admits. “And I think performance-wise, it’s harder pretending to defend someone than being the defendant.”

Female QCs are few and far between - there have only ever been about 300, according to Bar Council statistics - but Maxine had help when it came to research from a formidable role model. “I met Helena Kennedy QC at a charity event at the Royal Courts of Justice, around the same time I knew I was going up for the part,” reveals Maxine. “I remember thinking ‘this woman is quite special and I’d like to find out more about this world’.”

However, Martha is no lifeless, career-driven soul.

“I wanted to make her a little bit glamorous, I feel she’s got her own personality, she’s a bit rock ‘n’ roll. She’s definitely into her music. It’s funny because my friends were like ‘hang on, that’s you’, because I love my music and red lipstick, which worked for the character too.”

SILK, BBC1, MONDAY 9PM

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