Showtrial, episode 1 review: Talitha may be TV’s smuggest character – but is she a murderer?

Céline Buckens as Talitha Campbell in Showtrial - BBC
Céline Buckens as Talitha Campbell in Showtrial - BBC

TV has a new villainess and she’s called Talitha. Is that even a proper name? Or more of a typo? Just one of the many intriguing mysteries in BBC One’s shiny legal thriller Showtrial.

When working-class student Hannah disappeared after a University of Bristol ball, the police made a shock arrest: fellow student Talitha Campbell (Belgian-born actress Céline Buckens), who happened to be the daughter of one of Britain’s wealthiest, most well-connected families. Surely some mistake, officer? Apparently not, guv. Not only had she sent Hannah a string of threatening texts but “Lady Tease” approached her police interviews with an arrogant attitude and a complete lack of empathy for the missing girl.

Sinéad Keenan and Tracy Ifeachor were pleasingly sardonic as the detective and duty solicitor who were having none of Talitha’s nonsense. Her father, property magnate Sir Damian Campbell (James Frain), was an unreconstructed rotter who’d clearly passed down his dastardly genes.

But is terrible Talitha a murderer or just a mardy little madam? There were hints that her smug snootiness was camouflaging dark secrets. With the case’s repercussions reaching into Westminster’s corridors of power, the stage is cleverly set for an incendiary court case which will attract frenzied public interest and divide the nation. Can our justice system deliver a fair trial under such a spotlight? And just as importantly, will Talitha’s scene-stealing bright green nail varnish start a trend?

Showtrial is the work of World Productions, makers of Line of Duty and Vigil. It shared with those series an attention-seizing premise, barrelling pace and a strong ensemble cast. Writer Ben Richards – whose CV includes Strike and Spooks – found refreshingly original angles on ye olde whodunit genre. Not only is it rare to see female-on-female murder in TV drama but the panoramic narrative followed all the key players: police, lawyers, Crown Prosecution Service, plus the families of both the victim and prime suspect.

I haven’t booed a teenage girl with such gusto since Leylah Fernandez – you know, Emma Raducanu’s opponent in the US Open tennis final. Fernandez turned out to be quite nice really. Will Talitha too? Doubtful but I’ll be eagerly tuning in for the next four weeks to find out.