Twelve Agonizing Brits
The first courtroom drama was Aeschylus' Oresteia, in which a cycle of blood vengeance driven by the Furies is arrested by Athena, instituting drama's first jury trial. "Let me be just," the goddess tells Orestes. "Let me remember the fair tongue of reason."
Jury trials abound in films, of course, but the most famous will always be Twelve Angry Men (1957), based on the stage play by Reginald Rose and directed by Sidney Lumet. After many revivals of the play worldwide, the film was remade for television in 1997 by director William Friedkin. Remarkably, that remake is not available on DVD, even though the cast includes George C. Scott, Ossie Davis, Hume Cronyn, Jack Lennon - and Sopranos star James Gandolfini.
Twelve Angry Men is not just about the jury system, it is also about racial and ethnic conflict, which is why it proves a perennial. A superb recent update is The Jury (2002), a British-made television series directed by Pete Travis, set in London's Old Bailey courthouse and glittering with young and old British thespians (Gerard Butler and Derek Jacobi, to name just two).
The series follows the trial of of a 17-year-old Sikh boy (Sonnell Dadral) accused of murdering an English classmate with a sword. The evidence is strong against him, but at the same time, the victim's anti-immigrant father, relatives, and police cronies do everything they can to push the proceedings toward a lynching.
The Jury departs from Twelve Angry Men by including a great deal of drama outside the courtroom, in particular the stories of a half dozen jurors whose lives are in such turmoil, they actually find respite (and for one couple, romance) in a murder trial. If you want to know how it all comes out, you'll have to watch it. I'm no spoiler, and besides, it contains far too many shadows of doubt to yield a snap verdict.
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