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Kavanagh Q.C. (1995-2001)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Kavanagh Q.C. (1995-2001)
Carlton Productions for ITV, tx. 3/1/1995-25/1/2001
27 x 76 min eps, 2 x 100 min eps, colour
CreatorsTed Childs
 Susan Rogers
Directors includeCharles Beeson
 Jack Gold
 Paul Greengrass

Cast: John Thaw (James Kavanagh QC), Lisa Harrow (Lizzie Kavanagh), Oliver Ford Davies (Peter Foxcot), Nicholas Jones (Jeremy Aldermarten), Anna Chancellor (Julia Piper), Alex Wilson (Jenny Jules), Cliff Parisi (Tom Buckley), Geraldine James (Eleanor Harker QC)

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The domestic life and legal cases of senior barrister James Kavanagh, a Lancastrian of working-class origins who is now a rich and successful advocate living in London.

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Kavanagh Q.C. is notable for its fine production values, strong cast and topical storylines, and for making television legal dramas much more dynamic. It was designed expressly as a vehicle for John Thaw and as a contrast to his previous series, Inspector Morse (ITV, 1987-2000).

Unlike the Oxford detective, Kavanagh is gregarious and affable, still sees his relatives in his native Bolton and is married with children. In the first episode, however, we learn that Kavanagh's wife Lizzie had a brief affair with another barrister, but the two reconcile well before her death at the end of the third series.

Courtroom dramas can often be stage-bound and verbose, but Kavanagh largely escapes that trap. 'The Burning Deck' (tx. 11/3/1996) is set in a naval court martial, with some filming taking place aboard HMS Victory, while for 'In God We Trust' (tx. 14/4/1997) Kavanagh travels to the USA for a death penalty case. 'A Sense of Loss' (tx. 18/3/1996), directed with great panache by Colin Gregg, ably explores the contrast between the barristers' trappings of wealth and the industrial wasteland inhabited by the defendant's family.

Kavanagh also looks at entrenched attitudes and traditions in chambers and the legal profession. Sexism and racism are explored through the experiences of female junior barristers Jenny Jones and Julia Piper with their pompous colleague Jeremy Aldermarten. Existing chiefly as a foil for Kavanagh or for comic relief, Aldermarten's character is rarely developed, although he elicits some sympathy when betrayed by a confidence trickster played by Lesley Manville in 'True Commitment' (tx. 26/2/1996).

Some episodes follow the traditional path of overlapping plots at work, home and in chambers, but many are highly ambitious. Charles Woods' 'Mute of Malice' (tx. 3/3/1997) deftly combines a religious crisis of faith, a Robert Maxwell-style pensions scandal and the conflict in Bosnia, in a story about a priest shocked into complete silence by his brother's death and memories of war atrocities. Equally good is Nigel Kneale's 'Ancient History' (tx. 17/1/1997), a Holocaust story triggered by the new war crimes laws clearly modelled on the case of Dr Wladislaw Dering, already the subject of Robert Reid's celebrated documentary According to the Rules (BBC, tx. 31/3/1972).

In the concluding episode, 'The End of Law' (tx. 25/4/2001), the now widowed Kavanagh is offered the chance to become a judge and has a romantic liaison with his old friend and frequent sparring partner, Eleanor Harker.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. The War Crimes Act (4:14)
2. The defence (2:05)
3. Rypin's Testimony (2:22)
4. Death and life (2:57)
Complete episode: 'Ancient History' (1:15:49)
Kneale, Nigel (1922-2006)
Thaw, John (1942-2002)
Wood, Charles (1932-)
Legal Drama