The way that films tend to portray lawyers, courtrooms, and the legal industry in general often tends to be less than realistic. Even so, there are some great law-themed films out there, and some excellent dramatisations of landmark real-life cases. This can really help law students to understand and appreciate aspects of the law and of the way that current legislation has been formed, and it’s a much more fun way to develop that understanding than most of the alternatives.
10 Rillington Place (1971)
This film dramatises the case of Timothy Evans, who was tried and hanged for murders which, it later turned out, were actually committed by one of the key witnesses for the prosecution. This has gone down in history as one of the most well-known and influential miscarriages of justice in the British legal system, and in particular was one of the key cases contributing to the decision to abolish the death penalty in Britain, so it is a case well worth examining and understanding. The film, which stars the likes of Richard Attenborough and John Hurt, is an entertaining and thought-provoking way to dip into the subject. There was also a more recent dramatisation of the same case by the BBC.
In the Name of the Father (1993)
Another dramatisation of a major miscarriage of justice, this film examines the case of the famous Guildford Four. These four people were tried and convicted for IRA bombings in the 1970s, but later turned out to be innocent. The film is sadly guilty of a very unrealistic representation of how trials are carried out, but the film is still worth a watch as a quick and entertaining way to get a grip on the facts of the case. It is, after all, another case that proved very influential; it played a role in the decisions to form both the Crown Prosecution Service the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)
This film examines part of the Nuremberg Trials for war crimes that took place in the aftermath of the Second World War. In particular, it looks at the trials of four German judges who were accused of using their position to advance the Nazi party’s goals of genocide. It is not only an acclaimed film, but an excellent piece of background viewing for examining and understanding modern-day International Criminal Tribunals for the hearing of war crime allegations.
Twelve Angry Men (1957)
This is an American film, and part of the interest for UK law students comes from watching it critically and thinking about how things might have been different if it had taken place under the justice system of England and Wales. The film is set in a jury room where the people of the jury are having trouble agreeing on the outcome of a case. As well as providing a look at the differences between UK and US law, it opens up interesting lines of thought or discussion about what impact the option of reaching a majority rather than unanimous verdict – as can happen in the UK – might have, or to consider the fact that what happens in UK jury rooms is entirely confidential.