The Trial: A Murder in the Family
Murder trials have always and will always grab society's attention. Just look at the resurgence of O.J. Simpson's trial last year-- multiple documentary series and a full-scale tv drama. The media will always jump at any chance to cover a murder trial because people will be inevitably curious. Channel 4 took full advantage of this infatuation for their new programming, The Trial: A Murder in the Family. The Trial is a pioneering program that takes a look at the inner workings of British justice system. The experiment simulates the proceedings of a murder trial with real barristers, a real judge, and a real jury of 12 average citizens, but with a fictions murder.
The point of the experiment is to explore how a jury of 12 randomly selected citizens goes about making a life-change decision. The question of the series is how a group of strangers can decide on the guilt or innocence of a single man. What elements come into play as the jurors make their decisions? Did the defense's theatrics will the approval of the jury? Did the prosecution miss the mark with just one witness? Or was it simply because the defendant rubbed a juror the wrong way? This series challenges the validity of a trial by jury and questions whether this ancient tradition is as beneficial as we think.
Although the case was fictitious, the show's directors, Nick Holt and Kath Mattock, did a convincing job of making the case feel real. Holt and Mattock create a convincing profile for the case using old home videos of actors Michael Gould and Emma Lowndes, as well as made up police interviews tapes and CCTV footage. It didn't take much for one to suspend their disbelief and actually believe that this was a real investigation. The inclusion of these details makes one truly believe they are watching the story of real family's tragedy.
Yet, the biggest problem I see with this experiment is that the jury was made aware that the trial was fake. Simply knowing that there is nothing at stake with their decision, lowers the gravity of the situation, regardless of how many time you tell them to treat the situation as real. If I was a part of this jury, I would be looking at the case like the murder mysteries I see on the telly, not like a real murder. Does knowing this will be a television program skew the jury's decision towards entertainment or reality? Can a jury being filmed truly act like they would in a real life scenario?
The Trial makes a strong attempt to recreate a trial by murder, but it's simply not possible to get a genuine reaction for a jury who knows the whole case is a fake.
The Trial airs every night at 9 pm from the 21-25 of May on Channel 4