Maxine Peake stars QC Martha Costello QC in BBC One’s legal drama Silk which returns for a new series this week.
Written by Peter Moffat, the drama also stars Rupert Penry-Jones and Neil Stuke and won critical acclaim and strong audience for tis first series which aired last year.
Below Peake discusses her character, the new cases and some new arrivals at Shoe Lane Chambers.
What’s in store for Martha this second series?
Martha has now got Silk. She’s become a QC and the cases are getting weightier. She’s got a few more battles on her hands, so initially I don’t think she is more confident, because she’s trying to reassert her status, but you will see as the series goes on she does appear to become a lot more confident.
She also has a lot more to prove this series. She feels a bit of tension in the Chambers since Clive didn’t get Silk, so there’s a little bit of friction there, although she does feel that she deserves it and she is very appreciative. She always wanted to become a QC, but sometimes it’s a bit frightening when you get what you wish for, isn’t it…
And how does Clive take it and how does it affect their relationship?
I think Clive tries to convince himself Martha got Silk for the wrong reasons, because she’s a woman and they need more women at the Barr, or something like that. I think he’s managed to manipulate his own idea of why she’s got it, for his own benefit. But I don’t think Martha looks at it like that, she’s very humble about it, she knows it’s a big achievement; however it’s also a big weight on her shoulders, and I think this makes her feel a bit lonely. Clive’s determined he’ll get Silk next time, so he’s off on a mission, but I think Martha feels like she has no one really to share it with.
There are some new characters this series and Frances Barber appears with Martha in the first episode – how do they meet?
They have a case against each other. Frances’ character CW (Caroline Warwick) is quite infamous for being a bit of a ball breaker, being brilliant at the job and being a woman who doesn’t take any messing because she is a top, top QC. Martha’s slightly petrified when she’s up against her in court, but I think she likes the challenge and I think she’s inspired – inspired because she’s a woman at the top of her game.
I know everyone says it, but I’ve wanted to work with Frances for ages, obviously because she’s a brilliant actress and a lovely woman but also just great fun to be around. She brought a different dynamic to the set, which was brilliant. She kept us all entertained and she plays a fantastic character, she really grabbed it.
Martha comes up against Micky Joy (Phil Davis) in this new series, which goes on to affect her relationship with Billy, can you tell us a bit about that?
Well Billy’s got himself involved with Micky Joy – he is one of these top solicitors who doesn’t play by the rules – but not in a good way. Martha doesn’t want any dealings with him. She doesn’t like the way he works and when she does get involved with the case things begin to go wrong.
Billy, on the other hand, is also trying to save Chambers. When he gets himself into deep water it slightly compromises Martha’s friendship with him.
What first attracted you to Silk as a drama series?
Well I’d just done Criminal Justice with Peter (Moffat) and Hilary (Salmon), and I’d always thought Peter was a fantastic writer. I remember receiving the script and reading the first page where Martha is sat stuffing a robe into a plastic bag whilst lighting a cigarette. I just thought, oh great this is a legal drama, but, here we have a successful female who’s got her foibles and got her faults, but at the same time she’s quirky and she’s human. And then, the more I continued to read the more I liked her – she’s not a typical TV barrister who ticks all the normal barrister boxes, she’s different.
Why do you think legal dramas are so popular?
They’re similar to cop dramas and others alike, where the audience can really piece the events together, almost act like detectives themselves and decide how that did happen – who did what, or who’s guilty or not guilty. I find these dramas fascinating – it’s a world that many of us fortunately don’t dip into. The legal system is all around us, but the majority of us don’t have to go into a court, so it’s a way into another world that is unusual.
I think with Silk there’s something there for everyone: it’s a legal drama, but it’s human as well – you get to dip into the lives of the barristers and clerks.
Do you think you could work in the legal world in real life?
To be honest, when I was doing Silk I remember thinking I wish I’d known about this when I was younger as it might have been a possibility. But then again, I’m not really bright enough, and the amount of knowledge you’ve got to retain is incredible.
I find it fascinating but I don’t think I’m quite cut out for it! I think I’d get far too involved and that’s what you see with Martha. I think I’d find it really difficult to switch off at night and I think a lot of the barristers do – they seem to work hard and play hard – and I think you sort of have to, because people’s lives are in your hands.
Finally, there are some great cases in each episode – are there any guest stars, who are going to pop up in this series that you can tell us about?
We’ve been very lucky – we’ve got Shaun Evans who’s appearing as Daniel Lomas. He’s recently been in Endeavour playing the young Morse.
There’s going to be an episode about a Court Martial, which is really great because it’s a different court scenario again and Mathew McNulty is representing a soldier, Captain Ryan, and he is brilliant. We’ve also got Jamie Parker coming in that episode as well.
We have some great people up coming up in that witness box!
Silk returns 9pm Tuesday 15 May on BBC One and BBC One HD