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North Square (2000)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of North Square (2000)
Company Pictures for Channel 4, tx. 18/10-20/12/2000
10 x 60 min eps, colour
DirectorsNigel Douglas
 Tim Fywell
ProducerAlison Davis
CreatorPeter Moffat

Cast: Philp Davis (Peter McLeish); Sasha Behar (Stevie Goode); Rupert Penry-Jones (Alex Hay); Kevin McKidd (Billy Guthrie); Helen McRory (Rose Fitzgerald)

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The resourceful and Machiavellian senior clerk of a new law firm in Leeds guides the professional and private lives of his young, talented and aggressive barristers, all of whom are eager to make their mark.

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In some respects a kind of riposte to BBC2's cult hit This Life (1996-97; 2006), Peter Moffat's ten-part serial North Square is also a workplace drama about young and sexy lawyers connected by a single location, in this case the titular chambers. Stylistically however, with its fast pace, whip pans and glossy look (although set in Leeds, it never seems to rain there), it is much more reminiscent of such American series as Ally McBeal (1997-2002), which is not only referred to directly in one episode but which was also scheduled directly after North Square when initially broadcast on Channel 4. The strong language, anti-authoritarian stance and lashings of sex and nudity, however, are very much typical of the post-watershed dramas made by the channel to appeal to its target audience of young, middle-income earners.

The barristers are all young, brash, eager and highly ambitious, with the female lawyers proving to be the toughest - none more so than Rose, who in the first episode is shown accepting a major case that her partner Billy had turned down because their baby is due any day. Billy, on the other hand, proves to be something of a weakling, easily cornered by his ex-clerk Marlowe into revealing a damaging secret about his colleague Wendy when his own career is put at risk after he punches a racist barrister. For the most part, the lawyers are variously shown to be smug, immature and fickle, but most importantly they also prove to be highly malleable.

In a practically unique move, the focus of the series is actually not on the photogenic cast of barristers but rather on their profane, grizzled and highly manipulative senior clerk, Peter McLeish. Philip Davis gives a dazzling, bravura performance as McLeish, a hugely complex character as likely to make deals with gangsters as patriotically to quote William Blake and insist on the formal proprieties of calling barristers 'Sir' and 'Miss' in chambers. In fact, the series is book-ended by McLeish quoting from Blake's 'Jerusalem' in episode one and, in the closing instalment, singing it as a lullaby to his barristers as the chambers celebrates its first anniversary. It is this aspect of the series that gives it its energy and true distinction as we watch to see whether the increasingly strained McLeish will succeed in keeping his 'family' together and beat his arch-rival Marlowe.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Losing streak (4:08)
2. Attitude (3:47)
3. Sentences (3:57)
Complete first episode - Part 1 (15:29)
Part 2 (13:47)
Part 3 (16:59)
Davis, Philip (1953-)
McKidd, Kevin (1973-)
Channel 4 Drama
Legal Drama
TV Drama in the 2000s