WARNING: spoilers below
Famed for her championing of apparently lost causes human rights lawyer Emma Banville (Helen McCrory) is drawn to investigate a 14-year-old child murder. The former girlfriend of Kevin Russell, the man convicted of the killing, contacts Emma after seeing one of her successes reported on the news.
Emma visits Kevin in prison looking for a new angle to reopen the case. His revelation that he had been promised leniency in return for a confession becomes the loose thread Emma tugs on to unravel the conviction. Resistance from her investigation from uncooperative police officers, press intrusion, the dead girl’s family and even her own law firm merely reinforces her resolve.
Emma is also involved in the case of a Syrian doctor who has fled the country leaving his wife behind. This case has made her a person of interest under police surveillance. Considered ‘slippery’, Emma plays a game of cat and mouse with her watchers refusing GPS-enabled cell phones and having meetings in underground car parks.
The officer who originally interrogated Russell and secured his confession had her career made by the case and is now a senior detective with anti-terror unit SO15. When Emma is subject to a dubious traffic stop, she asks why she has been pulled over only to be told, “maybe it’s the company you keep”. While this could be a veiled reference to her Syrian doctor, it also coincides with her sudden interest in Kevin’s case. Then he is assaulted in prison with the tacit aid of guards and ‘encouraged’ to suddenly claim to be guilty after all. Could there be a connection?
Patrick Harbison, the writer of Fearless, has spent much of the last 10 years working in US TV on shows including 24, Person of Interest, and Homeland. First appearances suggest that his new series is a move away from high impact action with a focus on the war on terror into the more sedate legal crime genre. However, Harbison brings the post 9/11 anxiety of his pervious work to the stuffy wood-panelled courtroom drama.
Fearless is slickly directed by Pete Travis whose past work includes the BAFTA award-winning Omagh, the Hollywood movies Vantage Point and Dredd, and this year’s British neo-noir City of Tiny Lights, but it is McCrory who really makes the material come alive. On paper, her character has most of the stereotypical traits of a crusading civil rights lawyer, or at least the TV drama version. She works too late, smokes too much, has a strong anti-authority streak, she even drives a beige Volvo. McCrory gives Emma personality beyond these tropes, giving her strength but also an unexpected vulnerability that is seen when tabloid headlines attacking her defense of child killers are brought up in an adoption meeting.
Episode 1 of Fearless did a lot of work in establishing characters and setting the stage, ending with strong hints of a much larger conspiracy behind Kevin Russell’s conviction. Hopefully this will blossom into a compelling thriller rising above the over-familiarity and staid staging of the courtroom drama.
Did you tune in for Fearless episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!