Showtrial comes from World Productions, the UK firm behind hit drama Bodyguard, and explores the implications on justice when a murder trial grabs the public’s attention and draws unprecedented media scrutiny.
By the producer’s own admission, Showtrial is a deliberately provocative title for a series that attempts to dive into the ramifications of what happens when a murder trial finds itself at the centre of media attention and public opinion.
The story tracks the life of an estranged daughter of a wealthy political donor, who is charged with conspiring to murder a fellow college student. She chooses to be represented by a high street lawyer rather than by a major legal firm, with the show going on to explore how her defence team attempt to fight back against a prosecution determined to weaponise her sexuality and privilege against her.
“I suppose the Showtrial title was deliberately provocative,” says Simon Heath, exec producer & CEO at World Productions. “It evokes rigged trials in Communist states where the government has already decided the verdict. But for me it also suggests a kind of trial by media, or a trial by public opinion where the facts of the case are secondary to prejudice and ideology. It questions the notion of blind justice or a fair trial. Is our legal system unbiased?”
The origin of the series goes as far back as 2013, Heath continues, when the exec was watching true crime documentaries, most notably The Staircase. “I was struck by the way that certain murder trials become a lightning conductor for big themes and points of social conflict,” he says.
“Those trials attract a huge amount of media coverage and speculation. They become water cooler discussion points. Everyone has a view. I began thinking about how a drama could replicate that kind of true crime fascination – through the nature and facts of the case, the character and background of the accused and their alleged victim.”
Following deep research with multiple solicitors, barristers and police officers, the show’s first script was written with Ben Richards in 2015. Several drafts – and four years – later, the series got the greenlight from the BBC and, after a pandemic hiatus, shooting started in March.
“Showtrial feels unique because it doesn’t focus solely on the police investigation or the courtroom drama,” Heath explains of the show’s unique selling point. “Early on we realised that a trial begins the second a suspect is arrested, so the story needed to start there, with the first meeting of the accused and their solicitor, even before the first police interview.
“Unlike many legal dramas, the show doesn’t focus solely on the defence. Instead, we see the case from the perspective of both defence and prosecution, moving between the teams as they respond to evidence and build their cases. It climaxes with a trial, but again we are interested as much in what’s happening outside the courtroom as in the dock. What conversations are happening in the side-rooms and corridors outside the main courtroom, and what influence do they have on proceedings?”
While drama takes centre stage, there is also plenty of dark humour peppered throughout the series and Heath says this adds to the show’s authenticity.
“Those moments feel like a realistic portrayal of how people react and cope with extreme scenarios – a way of coping with and diffusing the darker, more stressful moments of the story. While it’s a British sense of humour, it’s the kind that international audiences have enjoyed in UK shows as different as Succession, Happy Valley or Killing Eve and I’m confident they will do the same with Showtrial.”
Producer: World Productions
Broadcaster: BBC One (UK)
Distributor: ITV Studios
Synopsis: Exploring how identity, prejudice and the media distort the legal process, with dark humour and compelling characters that leave viewers as invested in the outcome as a real trial.