Eternal Law Series 1
By Ashley Pharoah & Matthew Graham
First broadcast: 2012
Eternal Law is the new heady clash of ordinary and extraordinary from Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes GENIUSES Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharaoh. Except this is much less accomplished. It was panned by most critics and axed soon after the series ceased to air.
For the most part, Eternal Law is watchable and even enjoyable. Ukweli Roach is magnificent, naive and innocent without being irritating, as is the spectacular Orla Brady as Mrs Sherringham. Tobias Menzies is the perfect opponent, possibly even the star of the show, especially in the climactic church sequence – it’s not his fault he’s written almost exactly the same as Jim Keats from Ashes.
Samuel West gives a far weaker performance, coming across as snooty and conceited rather than age-old and sophisticated. His love story with Hannah is easy to predict and sometimes even shamelessly stagnant.
The focus is heavily weighted on series arcs such as those, which sacrifices development of the law-related stories-of-the-week, competent though they are. The best being that of episode four, which climaxes in a beautiful and unexpected sequence backed by a Mumford and Sons song. Elating and devastating at the same time, it proved this series really was capable of so much more.
The direction is more often than not fabulous, and it very much takes advantage of the beauty of York (although an ancient spires-y city and an older housekeeper are two of crime fiction’s greatest clichés. To be fair, it makes sense to rely on already-established icons when other elements of the series are so departed from the norm.) The grading of the film in particular deserves special mention as it manages to make the dullest day look bright and almost nostalgically blurred. The only point where the visuals fall down is when it relies on a dodgy CGI skyline of York on the polystyrene set which is supposed to be the top of a cathedral, but if you squint, it’s passable.
Graham and Pharaoh are not consistent writers; the woeful Bonekickers proved that, but in Mars and Ashes they really found something. To be fair, Life on Mars was ten years in the making, whereas this was broadcast within two years of the end of Ashes. Maybe they just need a great deal of development time to produce gold.
Or maybe it’s all in the opening. Right from the start of this series, one is smacked around the head with the mythology, the wider, grander picture, the allegory, which makes it look unsophisticated and gauche. With Ashes to Ashes, the audience never even knew it was about greater and more magical things until the closing throes. It is in that difference that the line of success lies.
In spite of its shortcomings, I was saddened to hear the axe had fallen on Eternal Law for low ratings. As so often in this current climate, anything less than the slot average and the channel simply won’t take the risk. This is a crying shame as, if given a second series, I’m sure the concept would have been refined.
All in all, not the disaster I expected, but a long way from Divine.