Tune in, switch off - Red, white and deeply blue

23rd October 2009 at 01:00

If you have ever seen The Home Show on Channel 4, this was like the bit where presenter George Clarke sprays arctic white everywhere. But this was not a makeover programme, this was a week's worth of compelling, chilling tragedy in Criminal Justice (BBC One).

From the snow-bleached kitchen, a flight of oddly angled stairs leading to the front door gave controlling husband Joe (Matthew Macfadyen) a bird's spy view of his wife, Juliet (Maxine Peake), distorting his own face to giant grotesqueness.

Deep in the night, Juliet wandered from the kitchen to their sleep-starved bedroom carrying a jar of Vaseline to ease her marital pain and a 7" knife to end it forever. White turned to red: with bloodied hands and nightdress stained scarlet, this woman was so traumatised her only link with reality was the sight of her daughter, Ella (Alice Sykes).

Ella pulled the knife from her father's chest seconds before the emergency services told her not to, causing herself torment. The blood did not stop as Juliet went to prison, as her self-harming cellmate gouged gashes in her arm and picked the scabs in the night before eventually cutting her own throat. The other inmates' practical jokes did nothing to lighten her gloom. The tampon-flavoured tea made me determined to avoid strawberry fruit drinks in future.

At echoing volume, doors were unbolted, slammed or locked. Nerves jangled. No more complaints from me about the sound of my alarm clock. A morbidly gloomy Juliet concealed her secret murder motive along with the anti-depressants in her mattress. Birth followed death as Juliet gave birth to a sister for Ella, and gloom gave way to post-natal elation.

The baby gave Juliet a reason to confess the motive for her crime - Joe's abuse. Juliet described Joe's rapes and emotional control in that sterile house, her planned suicide and the sword in the bed when "something snapped".

The final twist of the knife was the revelation that the baby's father was her GP, another man who had taken advantage of Juliet's fragility. The last abuser was the judge whose senseless sentence meant years of separation from the children she loved, tearing the hearts of everyone watching.

At five hours over five nights, it was the length of a Shakespearean tragedy, with as many destroyed lives. My Fool's commentary will do little to lighten it. The white was a mocking, shocking distortion, just like the life Juliet was forced to live

Ray Tarleton is principal of South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon.

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