Review: Criminal UK

*Spoiler Alert*

Season 2 of Criminal UK has just come out on Netflix and, while it may be just what we need right now to distract us from our post-summer COVID-19 self-pity party, the premise of some of the episodes is slightly troubling – and not just in the way that they are supposed to be.

Each episode follows a different suspect with the same team of London-based detectives interrogating them for various crimes. Written by George Kay and directed by Jim Field Smith, Criminal usually perfects the balance between shocking and suspenseful, providing the audience with a clear resolution at the end of the episode but keeping us guessing all the way through. This series, however, may have controversially overdone it as it follows storylines perpetuating harmful stereotypes about the criminal justice system.

  Episode 2 was particularly problematic in its depiction of a white wealthy businessman (Kit Harrington) accused of sexual assault by one of his female junior colleagues. As the episode unveils, it is hinting at a major plot twist in the case. Rather than finding out that he is lying to a greater extent than at first suggested, or that his victim has been left with injuries that evidently prove the encounter was not consensual, or indeed anything that would reflect the all-too-common realities of these investigations, it becomes apparent that he has been falsely accused. It comes to light that his colleague was in fact lying about the assault in order to gain financial benefit, as she had done in the past, which is ultimately proved in text messages to a friend.

The episode is supposedly intended to remind us that just because someone has an arrogant and aggressive disposition it does not necessarily render them a rapist. But considering that less than 1% of reported rape cases are classed as false allegations and only 1.5% rapists are actually convicted, is this really the narrative we should be pushing in mainstream TV shows? Not to mention that men are more likely to be sexually assaulted than falsely accused of sexual assault. With this is mind and considering the compelling subject matter that this show generally deals with, it would have been more beneficial to see a case of male rape than one of false accusation.  While false accusations of any kind are an important issue, Criminal had an opportunity to represent these shocking statistics by exploring the experiences of male rape victims, which remain largely absent in much media.

 I went on Twitter to see if anyone else was feeling the same way, but instead I discovered that the episode had indeed generated much of the hate and division that I feared. One user tweeted: ‘False rape accusations make as much damage. Watch Criminal: UK on Netflix, Season 2 Episode 2 and see the pain of a man accused of false rape and how it goes down for them and their reputation, their families, their career. This is something I hope no one goes through.’ Another wrote: ‘Season 2 episode 2 of #Criminal #criminaluk made me so angry. Lives are ruined by false allegations.’ It made me angry too, but certainly not for the same reasons.

While the rest of the season was easier to get behind, it didn’t help that Episode 1 had just depicted a woman whose husband had taken the fall for murders that she committed. It feels as if the series is trying to spin the traditional perception that women are not capable of crime and deceit, which is by all means something that we should acknowledge, but giving ammunition to people who have for so long tried to shut women down about their experiences feels more than unfair. Personally, I believe the show would have benefited from a bit more sympathy and sensitivity when it comes to an issue which has, indeed, ruined so many lives and left so many victims without real justice.

Overall, Criminal is a gripping watch that I recommend to anyone particularly interested in the British police procedure, or otherwise curious about the nature of crime and how it is dealt with behind closed doors.

-Esther Huntington-Whiteley

Featured Image Source: Still via Netflix / Youtube

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