Streaming Spotlight - Court in the act

We're on the case this week

by Amber Wilkinson, Jennie Kermode

12 Angry Men
12 Angry Men
Courtrooms have proved fertile ground down the decades for filmmakers, offering a confined space to present arguments and hold societal prejudice up to the light, so this week we're on the trail of trials for our streaming spotlight. If you're looking for more inspiration for what to catch at home, check out our Stay-At-Home Seven.

12 Angry Men, most streaming platforms and on Film4 at 11am on Monday, March 8

This classic court drama is largely set, not in the courtroom itself, but in the claustrophobic stew of the jury room, where the men of the title are debating whether to give a man on trial the death penalty "on the hottest day of the year". Originally made as a live television drama, it was beefed up three years later by screenwriter Reginald Rose and shot with intensity by Sidney Lumet as we watch the characters sweat and shuffle their allegiances as their prejudices also begin to leak out. The cast is a who's who of the Hollywood greats at the time, including Henry Fonda, whose Juror No 8 is unwilling to jump to a decision, to Lee J Cobb and a very young Jack Klugman in one of his early film roles. Gripping and a film that doesn't just interrogate the jury's motives but our assumptions too. Read our full review.

Let Him Have It, Amazon Prime

Jennie Kermode writesThe case of Derek Bentley was one of the final nails in the coffin of the death penalty in English law. Poor, illiterate and developmentally disabled, he was just 19 when he shouted the titular words - ambiguous in their meaning - to a friend holding a gun after a botched robbery. A man died and Bentley was hung, and Peter Medak's film explores the social and psychological factors surrounding it all. It's anchored by a tremendous performance from the young Christopher Ecclestone, who gives Bentley depth and complexity as a character whilst leaving his lack of sophistication open to view. With a slow, understated approach, Medak explores the anger lingering in society after the end of the Second World War, with many of those who had returned home from the trenches feeling betrayed and rising unemployment adding to their frustration. He exposes class prejudice and the gulf of experience that made justice unlikely from the start. Read our full review.

Presumed Innocent, Amazon Prime

Jennie Kermode writes: Released in 1990, when Harrison Ford was still trying to shake off the shackles of Star Wars and prove himself as a serious actor, this tight little thriller sees him cast as a prosecuting attorney who ends up in the dock himself when the woman (Greta Scacchi) with whom he has been having a secret affair is raped and murdered. This complicated and sometimes outright obnoxious man must go through the familiar process of solving the mystery of her death himself if he is to clear his name. That's not easy when she may have crossed some very dangerous people, and it's also emotionally difficult as it forces him to face the fact that she was bored by him, whilst his loving wife (Bonnie Bedelia) is heartbroken over his betrayal. There's great work from Raul Julia as the man taking him to task, and director Alan J Pakula embeds the formal character of court buildings and legal offices in his shooting style, often framing events at a distance, making his all-too-human protagonists small in the grip of the system. Read our full review.

In The Fade, Amazon

Fatih Akin challenges the audience to flip their perspective in this revenge thriller that features a court case at its heart. Katja (Diane Kruger) finds the life she had with husband Nuri (Numan Acar) and her son Rocco (Rafael Santana) ripped apart by a bomb and Akin keeps us with her as the psychological impact plays out against the backdrop of the court case. We see the ingrained prejudices she faces because Nuri was both an ex-con and an immigrant, with Akin showing terrorism has many faces. As the film moves into modern noir territory for its final act, desire for justice and vengeance engage in a gripping dance to the last. Read our interview with Kruger and our full review.

The Trial of the Chicago 7, Netflix

Aaron Sorkin deservedly took home the best screenplay Golden Globe for this dramatisation of the events that unfolded around the Democratic Convention in 1968 and which led to the case of the film's title. His script bounces along both inside the court and out with a verve that makes you forget you're often in the static confines of a courtroom. The film delves into the protests - spearheaded by everyone from yippies (represented by  Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong)) to preppy students Rennie Davies (Alex Sharp) and Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) - and shows the way that conspiracy charges were subsequently cooked up. Sorkin, who also directs, let's the confined setting of the court fuel the tensions there with a pace that never slackens, while Frank Langella steals the show as biased judge Julius Hoffman. Read our full review.

Mangrove, BBC iPlayer

Steve McQueen's impeccably made-for-TV film shares a lot of common ground with The Trial Of The Chicago 7, although it is highlighting racism and judicial corruption on the other side of the Atlantic. The 1970 court case is a key element of this gripping drama outlining how a West Indian restaurateur was systematically targeted by the police. The trial itself stems from a peaceful protest that faces a wall of aggression from the boys in blue, showing how deeply embedded racism and discrimination were within the British justice system of the time. McQueen plunges us fully into the era as we see the comings and goings at the restaurant before things descend into trouble and features vivid performances from Shaun Parkes, Atheia Jones-LeCointe, Malachi Kirby among others. Read  what McQueen and his cinematographer Shabier Kirchner said about the film and our full review.

The Judge, Amazon

Erika Cohn's fascinating documentary offers a window into the world of Shari'a law as seen through the eyes of groundbreaking judge Kholoud Al-Faqih. The Palestinian became the first female judge to be appointed to the Islamic law courts and Cohn follows her as she goes about her business, quizzes her on her work and hopes for the future and paints a broader picture of Palestine more generally. The director lifts a lid on the sexist attitudes that still prevail in the Middle East around women and their place in society at the same time as championing the inspirational judge at the film's heart. Read our full review.

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