12 May 2016 | TheLittleSongbird
Problematic but very absorbing
There may be better and more consistent shows in the crime genre than 'Trial and Retribution', but despite its problems mostly in the later seasons at its best 'Trial and Retribution' was excellent.
It is agreed that 'Trial and Retribution' was better in its earlier seasons, particularly in the first six cases of the show with Pat North still in the show. By all means, the early episodes aren't flawless either, with "Trial and Retribution I" containing some loose ends that made the outcome of the court-case surprising and unsatisfying and a little too much time is spent on Mike and Pat's relationship, which was nicely fleshed out and played but sometimes like in "Trial and Retribution IV" it was almost like it was too much of the main focus.
However, a great job is done developing the police and law cases methodically and in great detail, and it really worked giving the episodes two hour length and taking time for the story to develop. The storytelling could easily have been thin in the show but on the most part they are incredibly absorbing with enough twists and turns to keep one on one's toes and to create genuine surprise. Some of them have a wonderfully unsettling atmosphere, particularly "Trial and Retribution II" (with the scene with Linda Henry being one of the show's greatest scenes) and "Trial and Retribution III" (with a disturbingly off-the-wall Richard E. Grant), and the court-cases avoid falling into hammy melodrama.
While the later seasons are certainly watchable, they aren't as good in my opinion. "Sins of the Father" is the only outstanding late episode, with such a complex and cleverly told story that actually took its time to develop (at a time when the show started feeling rushed). This said "The Lovers" (a very close second best later-season episode, with a very creepy Michael Feast and the investigation given top-priority, a real shame that the final courtroom scene felt too hasty and incomplete), "Rules of the Game" and "Tracks" are also very good and "Paradise Lost" provides parts that do resonate emotionally and a main suspect that in a rare case we feel sorry for. Plus Mike's family issues are written in a way that balances with the cases well and are easy to relate to. However, despite some interesting cases, good acting and well-fleshed out characters the later episodes suffer from being rushed as a result of telling a lot of story in too short a running time (which has been halved) which causes parts that don't feel explored enough and don't come over realistically, with too much emphasis on soap-opera-style relationships which cause the investigations to be rushed through and the courtroom scenes which are even shorter to feel even more so and not come over entirely plausibly. Some of the episodes are also either too thin ("Kill the King"), not explained enough ("Siren", had trouble following in the second half) or too obvious ("Mirror Image", which gives it away from as early on as the title!, "Closure" also with the killer being revealed too early). "Blue Eiderdown" is spoilt too by a ridiculous ending.
Another factor is that Pat North is a more interesting, engaging and likable character than Roisin Connor. Roisin has moments of charm and fire, particularly in the enjoyably combative tension between her and Mike, but is far too one-dimensional and is developed barely at all, very cardboard-like. Victoria Smurfit is also to me an inferior actress to Kate Buffery. Smurfit tries and has moments but her range is limited, making some of the more authoritative parts on the forced side, none of her acting comes close to the emotions of unspeakable terror and affecting poignancy that Buffery showed in a particularly tense moment in "Trial and Retribution III".
'Trial and Retribution' is an incredibly stylishly made show, the 3-split-screen camera work was not distracting to this reviewer and was used interestingly, while the gritty look the show has suits brilliantly. The show throughout is compellingly directed, sparingly but understatedly scored and very tightly and succinctly written with little being forced or gratuitous. Acting is good on the whole, much has been made already about Smurfit but there are also a couple of exceptions in supporting roles, notably the grotesque overplaying of Tim McInnerny, the damp squib underacting of John Lynch and (although it is a very short early role, in a career that has really grown) Rosamund Pike's relative inexperience shows that she comes over as annoying and robotic. David Hayman is a superbly commanding lead though, while Kate Buffery is similarly great and Dorian Clough brings some much needed humanity to the show. Simon Callow makes a few juicy appearances as a barrister but is underused.
Overall, 'Trial and Retribution' is problematic but it is very absorbing and at its best excellent. 7/10 Bethany Cox