Written and created by Homeland’s Patrick Harbinson, and starring Peaky Blinders’ Helen McCrory, Fearless has a, well, fearless pedigree in front and behind the camera. The opening credits, complete with the de rigeuer melancholic theme tune, show a dreamy montage of political history, with slogans from the 1970s scrawled on a wall (Labour isn’t working!), quotes from Thatcher, Blair and then Trump echoing in and out of the soundtrack giving it a slightly portentous feel. Our first introduction to lawyer Emma Banville (McCrory) sees her on television, successful in another can’t-win case, admonishing the media. ‘These are the facts,’ she bellowed. ‘Tweet that.’ So immediately there was a timely, socio-political dimension to this thriller. Which is all well and good, but what about the thriller aspect? Does it stand up to the hype?
Emma Banville is one of those characters you either love or not love. She smoked licorice-skinned roll-ups, she admonished prison guards for not complying to rules, and she extracted information from her client that others could not extract. She also smoked in rooms when she was told not to smoke in.
Another wrinkle? She was sheltering the wife and child of a Syrian client, a doctor who had gone back to Aleppo and was on MI5’s watch list. Yes, Helen Banville likes to cause a stink in the name of virtue. You get the impression she enjoyed it, too; enjoyed the constant fight, the constant thrill of swimming against the tide.
She was hired to defend Kevin Russell, who was convicted for the murder of a schoolgirl, Linda Simms, 14 years earlier: a crime which he maintained he didn’t commit. And of course, he didn’t. Of course he didn’t, or there wouldn’t be a six-part series about it.
Emma travelled to Norfolk to where the crime was committed. It was open, flat, sometimes desolate. Prime airbase territory. Indeed, in flashbacks she remembered hazy images of protesting on behalf of the CND back in the 1980s when she was a child. She also encountered present-day feelings, too, mostly from the Simms family, who were incensed that she was taking the case on and attempting to re-open old wounds. And wasn’t just the Simms family who had been alerted to her presence on the case – original prosecuting officer DCI Olivia Greenwood (the excellent Wunmi Mosaku), who managed to coerce Russell into confessing to the murder, emerged from the shadows, circling like a shark.
As it settled down into procedural, Emma found that the crime scene didn’t match the contents of Linda’s mouth and lungs (no conifers, you see). Later, they found that the substance in her lungs was jet fuel, perhaps from the nearby airfield. She was killed in one place, and then moved to another. This was enough to get Kevin Russell out on bail and a retrial, much to the press’s consternation.
But then the other strand – the political, second story – reared its head, with Emma’s sheltering of the Syrian woman, Miriam, threatening to get out of control. Especially as Emma and partner Steve (comedian John Bishop) were planning to adopt.
So where are we with Fearless? Emma Banville had a whiff of Jane Tennison about her, but, at the moment, I’m not too sure if all of the strands – the procedural investigation, the socio-political and the personal battle between Emma and Olivia Greenwood – are gelling together at the moment. Yes, I’m sure all three will intertwine and overlap, but at the end of the first episode it felt like a decent procedural with a dollop of conspiratorial, political thriller shoehorned into the mix. (The very final scene saw Michael Gambon’s shadowy government figure telephoning a contemporary in Washington to tell her that the Russell case was heading for a re-trial. She told him, in no uncertain terms, that it was under control.)
Despite a few shortcomings, it was intriguing enough.