Wednesday 24 Sep 2014
Sunday 1 November on BBC ONE
In common with many barristers in England, Andy Buchan knew nothing of William Garrow before he was asked to play him in BBC One's new four-part drama series Garrow's Law.
"That he is so little known is quite embarrassing really, isn't it?" says Andy on the phone from South Africa, where he is filming The Sinking Of The Laconia for BBC Two about a U-Boat attack on a British liner in the Second World War. "Garrow's story is fascinating and because he is unknown I think it's all the better that it is being aired. It's much more interesting to play a real historical figure and, because he's not famous, rather than doing a copy or a caricature I have to rely on the known facts in the history books to help understand how to play him."
Andy relishes unleashing the aggression that Garrow, the pioneer of cross-examination, used so effectively in his defence cases. "It was a huge crossroads in history," he says of his character, "he was sick of seeing people branded for no reason and courts that would get through batches of trials every eight minutes. The focus was very much on lunch, and that's no exaggeration... it is written in the history books that lunch was the primary focus of the day and the judge really looked forward to just getting through the morning. People were being sent to prison, even hanged, on no evidence and Garrow stepped in and started rattling a few cages by posing insightful questions. He's very aggressive; the whole thing is based on attack."
How easy was it for Andy to build up a picture of Garrow? "There are bits you can find on the internet, but that's really searching for scraps," he says. "There's a book called Fighting For Justice by John Hostettler, which has chapters on him and a couple of other books as well, but not many."
To get a feel for the work of a barrister, Andy went to Kingston Crown Court to observe some of Garrow's 21st century successors in action. "Their turns of phrase are incredibly interesting," he says. "Barristers have an element of actor about them; they enjoy that stage. Some of the phraseology was kind of complicated and quite flowery, always very polite and respectful but with undercurrents. I also watched their body language and the tempo at which they spoke."
The language and procedure of modern courts has developed over centuries, but Andy was intrigued to hear the phrase "I put it to you" still in use. "It appears in our scripts from the Old Bailey archive transcripts, but was also used in Kingston on the day I went to watch them, so it has kind of travelled through the centuries. It's part of the code of conduct and respect for the judge that they use while trying to attack at their own pace," he says.
The main focus for portraying Garrow was on his manner in court and his aggression and unforgiving nature. "He's very hot tempered and there's a real cut and thrust nature to the questioning – Garrow likes to get his claws into a witness. Getting your mouth around the language of the time was also a challenge, but Tony Marchant's scripts and the colour in them are fantastic and the differences between the characters means there is a lot of light and shade."
As a factual historical piece, much of which was filmed in Dumbarton in Scotland and using Edinburgh locations to double for the 18th century Old Bailey, Andy says the actors and production team worked hard to achieve a convincing feel to proceedings. "We've tried to avoid modern phraseology because that would be a lie and softening it, we wanted to paint it as it was."
Garrow's cases were conducted he said in very mob-like atmosphere. "The juries were loud and bawdy and would throw insults at witnesses as they passed. When Garrow comes into that arena he provokes one of two reactions – either absolute shock at what he is saying, as no-one has previously been questioned in that manner, or a real reaction to the fact he said a lot of unthinkable things. There's definitely an element of Garrow against the rest – even his boss, Southouse, played by Alun Armstrong, was forever trying to tame and temper him, saying 'sit back, things will come in time, you're too aggressive, too disrespectful'."
Working with Alun Armstrong, Andy says was quite an experience. "I'd never met him, but I knew of his work... I think stomach ache is the best way of describing it – your laughter muscles are worked more than you could ever imagine. Alun is one of the funniest guys I've ever met, this tidal wave of humour keeps coming at you, and he's fantastic to be around." Enjoying each others' company, the two actors found that the father-son relationship between Southouse and Garrow, one of the key relationships in the series, came naturally. "We seemed to develop that relationship very easily, which was good, the rest of it is down to the script."
The other key person in Garrow's life is played by Lyndsey Marshal as Sarah Hill, the wife of MP Sir Arthur Hill. "She straddles two worlds," says Andy. "She's married to a gentleman who is on the other side to Garrow. It was interesting playing that relationship because Garrow would sometimes find himself in circles he wasn't meant to be. It was also all hush hush because of this girl, but he couldn't help himself."
Through the scripts, Andy believes the audience will get a sense of the huge wave of change taking place in late 18th century society. "There's an uneasy feel at times, dangerous and threatening, but also positive that innocent people were hopefully going to be saved."
Does he feel there are any parallels to draw with the modern world? "Justice channels itself throughout the years. What Garrow puts forward in the manner of his questioning is important and hopefully people will be grateful for his input into the legal system."
So why did Garrow take on the legal establishment, his motive in defending the poor surely wasn't financial gain? "I don't think it was monetary," says Andy. "Here was an aspiring young legal student, who used to sit in an observational capacity at court and watch case after case as they unravelled. He saw with his own eyes this kind of pig pen beneath him, where things were running wild and nothing was being done about it. Although he got paid, it wasn't really about that. His passion came from the heart."
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