Monday, December 9, 2019

John Thaw as Kavanagh Q.C.

John Thaw as James Kavanagh.
While John Thaw was still appearing sporadically in episodes of Inspector Morse, he also starred in another, very different, TV series called Kavanagh Q.C. (1995-2001). The "Q.C." stands for Queen's Counsel and Thaw plays a middle-aged barrister who practices law in London. Unlike the solitary Morse, James Kavangh is a family man with a wife seeking a professional career, a daughter at university, and a teenage son.

The first three seasons feature Kavangh's private life as well as his cases. He copes with the after-effects of his wife's affair, his daughter's relationship with a married man, his son's academic challenges, and the death of a parent. Starting with the fourth season, the episodes focus more on his cases as both a defending attorney and a prosecutor. Unlike the U.S. legal system, British barristers can handle cases from either side--imagine Perry Mason as a prosecutor!

Oliver Ford Davies.
Kavangh practices law with two other senior barristers: Peter Foxcott (Oliver Ford Davies), who also serves as Head of Chambers, and the pompous, ambitious Jeremy Aldermarten (Nicolas Jones). Cliff Parisi (Call the Midwife) plays the chief clerk, who assigns the cases and manages the business affairs for River Court (the name of the practice). Other barristers come and go over the course of the series, to include Anna Chancellor as Julia Piper, Jenny Jules as Alex Wilson, and Valerie Edmond as Emma Taylor.

The writers of Kavanah, Q.C. handle some of the character departures in clumsy fashion. For example, the intelligent Julia Piper decides against moving to Africa with the man she loves. In a later episode, she suddenly decides to leave the law practice and work for a non-profit organization...in Africa. There's no mention of her former fiance. Then, a year later, Julia suddenly pops up in Florida, where she is married (but not to her one-time fiance) and pregnant. There's no explanation with how she got from Africa to Florida.

Despite such disruptive inconsistencies, the overall writing is above-average and there are several first-rate episodes. One of the best concerns a cover-up when a young man is injured on his job and suffers permanent brain injuries. Other engrossing plots find Kavanagh representing military officers in court-martial hearings and even a priest in a church tribunal.

Anna Chancellor as Julia.
The only episode that's truly bad is "In God We Trust," which finds Kavanagh traveling to the U.S. to help Julia with a death-row murderer's appeal. Although the setting is supposedly Florida in 1997, it comes across more like the Deep South during the racially-charged 1960s, right down to a bigoted governor running for re-election.

Still, that's a rare misstep for a solid TV series with a strong lead performance. For viewers only familiar with John Thaw as Morse, his performance as James Kavanagh will be an eye-opener. Whereas Morse was an introvert with few friends, Kavanagh is a outgoing family man and passionate barrister. It's a great role for a fine actor and the best reason to watch Kavanagh, Q.C. As of this post, it was streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

2 comments:

  1. John Thaw had the ability to draw you into his characters. We're lucky these television projects were, on the whole, so excellent.

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  2. I enjoyed Kavanagh Q.C. and I loved the Inspector Morse shows. I wish the 1970s police series Thaw was in (The Sweeney) was more easily available in the U.S.

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