WARNING: spoilers for Fearless episode 1 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!
WARNING: spoilers for Fearless episode 2 below. Still catching up? Read Stuart’s review of episode 1 here.
A crusading lawyer setting out to prove the innocence of a man wrongly convicted is the stuff of familiar legal drama, but two episodes in and Homeland writer Patrick Harbison’s six-part thriller Fearless is showing little interest in spending its time in wood panelled courtrooms.
Episode 1 ended Russell’s original conviction declared unsafe, but his lawyer Emma Banville’s victory is Pyrrhic. The police have come into possession of new evidence that means a fresh trial will need to be held. That evidence is a series of glamour photos taken by a sleazy photographer showing the murdered teenager Linda Sims. The photos were shot in the very school she attended and in which Russell worked as a caretaker. The photographer claims it was Russell who gave him access to the school, and that he gave him a set of the photos and a tenner in return.
In reopening the case Banville has not only ignited a tabloid frenzy, but has come to the attention of shadowy figures with connections to both the British and American political establishments.
This is a very paranoid story that shows the police using surveillance techniques that seem to the layperson’s eye to be hugely invasive. The question of how to balance the duty of the State to safeguard its citizens, against the fundamental rights of those very same citizens to privacy is one that has never been more vexing than now. However, so far this drama appears to be firmly on the side of its protagonist. Despite flaws (when you are drinking shots in the shower, it is perhaps time to admit you have a problem, Emma) Banville is clearly committed to proving Russell’s innocence and convinced of his innocence despite her client’s evasiveness even to his own lawyer.
Banville’s household is under constant observation because she is sheltering the wife of a British doctor of Syrian descent, who the anti-terrorist unit SO15 suspect is passing information to an ISIS network. That the lead detective Olivia Greenwood was also the investigating officer in the original investigation that convicted Russell is the series biggest contrivance.
Clearly there is more going on than meets the eye. A key clue revealed in the episode is a pin of an American fighter plane that can be seen attached to Linda Sim’s bra on one of the photos. This series has created a compelling mystery, but it is also occasionally frustratingly clumsy in its plot developments. When Banville notices that pin on her first glance at the pictures you can almost see an animated lightbulb above actress Helen McCrory’s head.
But while there are moments when Fearless relies too heavily on procedural cliches, it is also laced with genuinely compelling mysteries. A slick Washington operator has flown into the UK and is the source of the photographs that have blown holes in the defence. The American Heather Myles is clearly involved in a cover up, but of what? And how is the British establishment in the shape of Sir Alastair McKinnon, played by Michael Gambon, involved?
Did you tune in for Fearless episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
WARNING: spoilers for Fearless episode 3 below. Still catching up? Read Stuart’s review of episode 2 here.
Fearless writer Patrick Harbison is spinning many plates in his series about a crusading human rights lawyer. There are two concurrent cases Emma Banville is fighting – one a reopened child murder and the other a defence of a British doctor of Syrian descent accused of terrorism. The lawyer also has a complex personal life and is seeking to adopt. All of this whilst under surveillance by SO15, the police counter-terrorism unit.
Despite obvious conviction, Banville’s methods are ruthless. In fighting for her client’s acquittal, she has no qualms about causing distress to both the victim’s family and Kevin Russell himself. ‘By any means necessary’ seems to be her mantra. This could make for a character who is difficult to like, but Helen McCrory not only makes her fierce and independent, but a character paradoxically able to show vulnerability even while demonstrating strength.
In episode 3, the balance shifted in Fearless’ narrative. In earlier episodes, Russell has come across as a flaky and unreliable witness, and even Banville has occasionally seemed unsure her client is innocent. In her other case, despite the doctor having fled the country, her conviction of his innocence seemed solid. She is sheltering his wife Miriam and their child in her own home.
However, the violent police raid that closed episode two has shaken things up. After being given NSA information by the American fixer Heather Myles, SO15’s lead officer Olivia Greenwood ordered armed officers into Banville’s home. Before she was taken away, Miriam passed Banville a sim card with the words “remember you’re my lawyer”. Now her client’s cousin is eager to get possession of that card. The situation is beginning to smell like a tuna canning factory. Could SO15 be right that the absent doctor is working for ISIS?
Despite the paranoid tone and political manoeuvring, Fearless is at heart a legal drama, and this episode brought that to the fore as Banville played the system trying to gain a court order to exhume the murder case’s victim. This and a new witness give her the first real breaks in her case.
For such a gritty story Fearless is a pleasingly female-centric – obviously the protagonist is a woman, but so are the primary antagonists. Played by Wunmi Mosaku, SO15 officer Olivia Greenwood is a formidable character. Mosaku makes her hard as nails with a demeanour that is hard to read. When Banville confronts Greenwood with evidence of conspiracy it even appears to be possible that she could become an ally. Washington fixer Heather Myles (Robin Weigert) is also smarter than her British counterpart, a bumbling peer played by a rather underused Micheal Gambon.
With the exception of Banville’s ex-police investigator Dominic Truelove (Jonathan Forbes), male characters seem either weak, or — like Jamie Bomber’s character the MP Matthew Wild — pawns in the game. Absent this episode is Banville’s lover Steve Livesey played by comedian John Bishop, rather clumsily written out of the story to go on a skiing trip.
As Russell’s retrial begins the forces gliding beneath the surface appear to be gaining the upper hand – but three more episodes of intrigue and twists remain.
Did you tune in for Fearless episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
WARNING: spoilers for Fearless episode 4 below. Still catching up? Read Stuart’s review of episode 3 here.
Having secured a retrial, lawyer Emma Banville’s attempt to clear her client Kevin Russell’s name is in the balance. Her star witness has refused to testify because of intimidation, but new evidence has disproved the claim of Russell’s original trail that he murdered schoolgirl Linda Simms with a shovel. Her injuries were actually the result of being hit by a car. This in itself isn’t enough to prove his innocence – her client could still be said to have motive and opportunity. To win the case she has to show that Russell had no access to a vehicle when Simms was killed.
This was a fast-paced and exciting episode. Finally the secondary storyline involving Banville’s involvement with the wife of a terrorist suspect did not feel like a frustrating distraction from the main plot. Increasingly convinced the doctor is guilty, Emma played a dangerous game. By laying a trail of digital breadcrumbs she hoped to indirectly lead the police to him.
The SO15 anti-terror unit has her under constant surveillance but Banville needs information from lead detective Olivia Greenwood that will help Russell’s case. It is a trade fraught with both ethical and physical dangers. This injected some much-needed tension into the story, taking us out of the courtroom and showing that our flawed hero is willing to risk far more than her professional reputation. Her meeting with the suspect, Youssef Attar, was chilling. Actor Dhaffer L’Abidine played the character with a seductive charm, a foil for the steely determination Helen McCrory brings to her role.
When Fearless is good, it’s a slick and pacy thriller. Disappointing then that tonight’s episode also relied on some familiar thriller shorthand. The Russell retrial falters because Washington fixer Heather Myles spots a small detail in a photo. This convention isn’t even unprecedented in Fearless having been used previously when Banville had spotted a crucial detail in a photo of Simms.
This wasn’t the only recycled element. A few episodes earlier, Banville’s investigator Dominic Truelove was knocked off his motorbike by a van. That was a well-timed and surprising stunt, but a scene in tonight’s episode in which a character was struck by a truck was too clearly telegraphed to have the same effect. Characters walking suicidally into traffic is now such a convention that it does little but provoke a sigh from seasoned genre fans.
The identity of the Simms girl’s killer and the reason for the cover-up are still shrouded in fog. Potential suspects include prospective political leadership candidate Matthew Wild and his wife. Was her emotional reaction in an earlier episode meeting the murdered girl’s parents empathy? Or guilt? But why would America be so keen to protect a British politician if Wild or his wife had killed the girl?
This episode concluded with Banville travelling to the US to follow a new lead, but with her past record of political protest and her high media profile it isn’t long until her presence is noticed. Will she succeed in uncovering the conspiracy without being silenced?
Did you tune in for Fearless episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
WARNING: spoilers for Fearless episode 5 below. Still catching up? Read Stuart’s review of episode 4 here.
Having pursued a lead to America in episode 4 of Fearless, lawyer Emma Banville is detained by military police. Under interrogation, Banville is threatened with multiple charges, but to the frustration of political fixer Heather Myles she keeps her cool. This was a suspenseful way to kick off the penultimate episode. Unfortunately following it with the lawyer being sneaked out of her cell when the power is cut for a clandestine meeting was frankly silly – a rare lapse in an otherwise gripping episode.
Show creator and writer Patrick Harbinson had a difficult job in this instalment. Important information had to be revealed taking Banville close to unmasking the real killer or killers. But at the same time, Harbinson must keep his powder dry to set up an explosive finale next week.
After four episodes of obfuscation and intrigue, we were rewarded with some important nuggets. In previous episodes we met the man giving Myles orders. Now we know him as Jack Kretchmer, US Under Secretary of Defense in 2003. In secret, Kretchmer and an Iraqi defector had been flown to England. There they met with Sir Alastair McKinnon, a politician in Tony Blair’s government. The defector’s erroneous claims about chemical weapons were a key part of the ‘dodgy dossier’ used as justification for the Iraq War.
We also found that Linda Simms’ uncle, Phil Simms, was supplying drugs to the US base where she had died. Along with the photographer Tony Pullings we found out that Phil Simms had also been supplying girls.
The secondary terrorism plot that led to tense scenes in the previous episode has occasionally felt like a sideshow to the main event, but the two are converging. Miriam Attar, the wife of Banville’s former client – the terrorist Yusef Attar – reveals Yusef’s ISIS contacts know the lawyer gave the police information instrumental in his capture.
The shifting relationship between Banville and DCI Olivia Greenwood has been among Fearless’ most compelling elements. Having moved from enmity to uneasy collaboration in episode 4, it now becomes an alliance. The two are searching for the truth, with the detective risking her career to help the lawyer because of her personal code. Ironically this now means that the very surveillance that the SO15 chief had ordered on Banville threatens to expose their collaboration.
Ultimately while many answers were revealed in this episode there is still no smoking gun to persuade the CPS to again reopen the case. Banville interviews McKinnon and he asks her, “why would we kill a girl, even by accident, and then cover it up?” Someone is being protected – but who? We are being led to the conclusion it is the MP Matthew Wild, especially when he wins political leadership of the opposition. This makes him very important to McKinnon and by extension to the American’s represented by Myles’ fixer.
The closer she gets to the final piece of the puzzle, the more threatening forces are converging on Banville. The board is set for an end game, but will she have pieces left in play when checkmate is called?
Did you tune in for Fearless episode 5? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
WARNING: spoilers for Fearless episode 6 below. Still catching up? Read Stuart’s review of episode 5 here.
Fearless concluded with Emma Banville discovering the truth behind the death of Linda Simms in 2003, uncovering a political conspiracy in the process.
The lawyer had pieced together a picture of events leading to Simms’ death. That night a secret meeting had taken place on an American Airforce Base in England involving US and British politicians meeting an Iraqi defector. Simms and friend Rachel Leigh were ‘party girls’ ferried onto the base by Simms’ uncle. Banville is convinced the two girls crossed paths with the covert meeting. What she does not have is any definitive evidence linking the meeting and Simms’ death.
When the man falsely accused of Simms’ murder and her client Kevin Russell dies, the case seems to be melting into air.
Former adversary DCI Olivia Greenwood calls to inform Banville that she has located the Leigh girl’s mother. Emma visits and makes a shocking discovery. Laura Wild, wife of the new opposition leader Matthew Wild, is Rachel Leigh. This is the missing corner piece that unlocks the whole puzzle.
Banville’s tenacity forces the hand of Washington fixer Heather Myles who initiates a plan to use a threat made against the lawyer after he had helped SO15 arrest a former client, terrorist Yusef Attar.
Most of this episode took place at night in a succession of tense conversations and underhand activities leading to a face-off at the Wild’s apartment at which the mystery was unveiled. During this scene, a bomb was being planted under Banville’s car outside. Myles’ plan was to pin the explosion on ISIS.
To get to this point, we had to groan through Banville’s conversation with Rachel Leigh’s dementia afflicted mother. The exchange appeared futile until Laura and Matthew Wild appeared on a TV news report causing the ageing woman to remark “why did she change her hair?”
Throughout the series, crumbs of Banville’s back story have been dropped for us to follow. Her father is terminally ill and there is a long submerged conflict between them involving a failed romance and an abortion during Emma’s university years. The resolution of this plot line was overly neat and anticlimactic – clearly intended to colour in Emma’s character, explaining why she is so committed to uncovering the truth. This was the screenwriter telling the audience what Helen McCrory’s powerful performance was already showing them.
The analogy between the cover up of Simms’ death and the erroneous information about weapons of mass destruction that instigated the Gulf War also became very heavy handed in the final episode. A very large elephant in the room completely failing to look inconspicuous.
Fearless has been gripping over six episodes, but also often frustrating. The house of cards series creator and writer Patrick Harbinson has crafted came perilously close to collapse in the scramble to tie up so many plot strands. However, the performances of McCrory, Wunmi Mosaku as DCI Greenwood, and Robin Weigert as Heather Myles and the shifting relationships between their three characters has kept the story compelling.
Did you tune in for Fearless episode 6? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!