Follow TV Tropes


Series / Silk

Go To

"Do you think she'll get silk?"

Silk was a Law Procedural produced by The BBC, starring Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones. First aired in 2011, the show focuses on a group of London barristers, notably Martha Costello, who has had to fight her way up the ranks, and Clive Reader, who's got plenty of charm and cash. Both Martha and Clive want to become part of Queen's Counsel (called "taking silk"), but only one of them can get there. Add to this the scheming of senior clerk Billy, who sees everything that goes through chambers, and you've got yourself a recipe for disaster. Or, as it may happen, good television.

They all wear wigs and flowing gowns, and spend a lot of time reading legal briefs.

The show ran for three seasons and concluded in March 2014; while it was announced at the time this was a decision to "go out on a high" by Peter Moffatt, however subsequent Twitter comments and a strange ending imply the BBC pulled the plug themselves.

This show provides examples of:

  • Amoral Attorney: Although Martha seems to genuinely care about the guilt or innocence of her clients, the truth is that even the guiltiest defendants deserve a fair trial.
  • Ascended Fridge Horror: Several times. Just because they get a "not guilty" verdict doesn't mean they're really free.
    • One defendant in season two testifies against the criminal gang that forced him to commit assault, but is brutally killed for doing so.
      • Especially horrible as it is noted several times throughout the episode that the client has the mind of a child. Despite the horrible acts he committed, he is in a sense, an innocent. His inability to carry out the full '5 sense' murder and his subsequent actions, lead to him being killed in the same way. He would have known exactly what was going to happen to him, and how excruciating it would be.
    • Another defendant, given a way out of his life as a male prostitute, goes right back to that life when released.
  • Author Appeal: At times, Silk can feel like Peter Moffat has stuffed everything he's ever written into it. Silk is basically just a much darker, more sophisticated version of his old show North Square.
    • A great example of this trope is when Martha recites nearly all of the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy from Macbeth in one sitting. Moffat wrote the Macbeth episode of Shakespeare Retold.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: For all their fighting and arguing, Clive and Martha rely very heavily on each other, both professionally and emotionally. The occasional reminder of just how much they do need and trust each other is enough to push it into this.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Martha and Clive flip between this and Vitriolic Best Buds for pretty much the whole show. It's usually done in a slightly more light-hearted way than in most shows and movies though.
    • This is mainly due to the fact that they acknowledge the attraction between them, rather than pretend it doesn't exist. They just seem to think that their platonic relationship is more important.
    • Prior to the series, they did have sex, resulting in Martha's pregnancy.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Billy doesn't blackmail Clive, but it's pretty clear that Clive could lose his job, so it's blackmail.
  • Blue Blood: Clive went to Oxford, and Niamh, his pupil, is the daughter of a judge.
    • Not even Clive's Character Development in season two can quite bridge this gap. He's rather unkind to Nick in season one, and during interviews for potential pupils later on, he bristles at the thought of hiring a former cop turned law student.
      To Nick: We'll see who does better, the boy from up north or the daughter of a judge.
  • Britain Is Only London:
    • Lampshaded by Martha, who is from Manchester.
      "There's plenty of criminals in Manchester."
  • Butt-Monkey:
  • Cliffhanger: The final episode of season 3 and of the season ends with Martha disappearing, Billy collapsing and a supergrass apparently about to be shot.
  • Dirty Cop: Yep, this happens too.
  • Good Lawyers, Good Clients: Deconstructed. Many of Martha's clients are good people caught in shitty situations, but not all of them: she also defends the probably guilty and sometimes prosecutes the probably innocent, and has to deal with the ethical issues such cases present.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Doubly subverted. Martha finds out she's pregnant, books an abortion, but changes her mind nearly two episodes later. Followed up with a Convenient Miscarriage later on.
  • Foil: Niamh and Nick both have the same first case, representing different clients in front of the same judge. Nick struggles with witness questioning and is intimidated by the judge, but he manages to find a legal clause that wins him the case. Niamh has a commanding and persuasive questioning style, but she only uses the strategy prepared for her by Martha and when force to improvise her arguments become ridiculous and she loses.
  • Freudian Trio: Forms in season three after Caroline joins Shoe Lane. Martha (the Id) is always very emotionally invested in her cases and lets her emotions and passion drive her decisions (something Clive pulls her up on). Clive (the Superego) is more cold and calculating, and almost all of his decisions regarding cases are based on achieving a realistic outcome. Caroline (the Ego) finds a professional balance between the two, and occasionally mediates when Martha and Clive disagree on a course of action.
    • Also demonstrated during the elections for Head of Chambers. Clive wants Shoe Lane to become solely a prosecution set because he believes it will make the chambers more successful and help them in the long run; therefore making it a logical decision. Despite the fact that it may eventually lead to the downfall of the chambers, Martha wants them to stick solely to defence, purely because it is tradition and the type of work she prefers. Caroline attempts to please everyone and promises a balance between prosecution and defence work.
  • Hello, Attorney!: Downplayed. There are attractive attorneys (Natalie Dormer!), but none of them exist solely to be hot.
  • Hidden Depths: Clive starts out as a Jerkass, but becomes more developed as the show goes on. The second season in particular seems to be about Clive's character development, where the first season focused more on Martha.
  • Hollywood Law: Subverted, since writer Peter Moffatt was actually a barrister, but the characters do tend to ask witnesses questions without knowing the answers in advance, a big no in the real world.
    • The exception would be Nick and Niamh, the trainees, who are still finding their way around the courtroom and therefore expected to do this.
  • Job Title: The title refers to being Queen's Counsel, or "taking silk".
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Martha frequently uses this as a way to get clients to warm to her, or to get them to see things differently.
    • In series 3, episode 3, Clive lampshades her use of this trope both before and after he tries it himself.
  • Not So Omniscient After All: Billy. It's tough when he finds out that the firm is conspiring to get rid of him, after he's devoted twenty years to it.
  • N-Word Privileges: The defense of a police woman accused of racist conduct is related to this.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Several of these. Martha, Clive, and the rest of the barristers have to take certain cases, even if they don't want to, either because the firm needs the business that the case could bring or because the barrister in particular needs to round out their resume.
    • Also, a barrister has to take a brief unless they don't have the experience or don't have the time to give the brief the attention it deserves. It's called the "cab rank rule."
    • For a specific example, a clerk from a rival chambers offers Clive the chance to abandon ship at his current firm to practice at an incredibly prestigious one instead. Turning it down would mean damaging his career.
      • It's a set up designed to test Clive's loyalty to the firm. He fails miserably.
  • One-Word Title: In reference to being Queen's Counsel, "taking silk".
  • Oop North: Martha and her trainee, Nick, are both from the North of England, although it's not specified where.
  • Patriotic Fervor: "This is England" is frequently cited as a reason for doing things.
    "You can't kill unborn puppies. I mean, this is England!"
    "This is the British army we're talking about here."
  • Token Minority: Kate, and then George in season two. Justified as Truth in Television. The bar is overwhelmingly male and wealthy - Martha's being from Manchester is already a break from the norm.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Everywhere.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Nick, as far as badass in the courtroom goes. Starts off as the young trainee from Oop North who can't afford his casebooks and totally fumbles the cases he's given, but by the end of the series he wins a case despite leaving his notes in the bathroom and figures out how to solve his mentor's case as well.
    • In the second season, Martha and Clive go through the process of hiring new trainee pupils - most of their interviewees are horribly inept or inarticulate. The fact that they chose Nick at all suggests that he was probably pretty good from the start, and that he had to get over his nerves.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Clive gives Martha one of the type 5 variety when he's mad that she keeps putting her clients before him.
  • Rousing Speech: More or less every episode.
  • World of Snark: Oh, yes.
    "Are you trying to tell me that puppies need father figures too?"
    "I sure as hell hope you know what you're doing, because I don't.''
    • And this gem of an exchange:
    Clive: "Don't flirt with your pupils, Martha."
    Martha: "And don't fuck them, either."
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Billy calls Martha by her first name at the end of series 2, prompting Martha to say, "You know, that’s the first time you called me Martha in 17 years." The whole thing is heartbreaking because Billy has just recently learned he has cancer.