TV & Movies

BBC’s Showtrial Feels Familiar For A Very Good Reason

Just not in the way you’d expect.

Celine Buckens as Talitha Campbell in 'Showtrial'
BBC/World Productions

From the creators of Bodyguard and Line of Duty, BBC’s latest drama Showtrial is nothing short of gripping. The series follows the trial of university student Talitha Campbell, an affluent young woman who is charged with conspiring to murder, after her classmate, Hannah Ellis, disappears. Set in (and outside) the courtroom, the legal drama follows both sides as they are swept up into the public consciousness and swallowed up by a media storm. But is Showtrial based on a true story?

Showtrial may seem like it’s inspired by a real case because it feels so familiar, but it is, in fact, entirely fictional. For its creator and writer Ben Richards, that familiarity stems from his fascination with trials, and the cases that produce them, he said in a media release. Initially conceived in 2013 and finished during the height of lockdown, Richards says the script was “informed by elements of many trials that [he] avidly followed and that gripped the public conciseness.”

Netflix’s The Staircase also had some influence on the series, according to executive producer Simon Heath, who was watching it during the time of Showtrial’s inception. “I was struck by the way certain murder trials become a lightning conductor for big themes and points of social conflict,” he explained. “I began thinking about how a drama could replicate that kind of true crime fascination.”

Richards was especially interested in depicting the defence, whereby suspects either try to blame another “to minimise their involvement” or base their actions around “games gone wrong”. Speaking to i, Celine Buckens said the show “definitely puts that privilege under the scalpel,” highlighting the “crisis” that the criminal justice is in. (As the daughter of a billionaire property developer, Campbell’s case quickly captures the attention of the press, and therefore the public.)

The Showtrial creator also wanted to make sure an equal amount of the story was given to the victim’s family, highlighting how in real trials and cases they are often “condemned to the agony of knowing that no punishment will ever bring the child they miss so much and whose final suffering they can never undo.”

To bring realism to the drama, the creative team enlisted the help of “multiple solicitors, barristers, police officers, and CPS managers,” according to Heath, in addition to reading and watching a number of real-life trials so they could “get the strongest possible sense of how a murder trial progresses from arrest to verdict”.