The Firm


BBC Scotland/iPlayer

Whoever said any publicity is good publicity has never heard of Gerald Ratner, or sampled this docuseries on Aamer Anwar.

In publicity for The Firm the lawyer and campaigner said he had been approached many times to be the subject of a documentary. He swatted the requests away because he didn’t want a “sensationalist or salacious spotlight shone on our work”.

Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is I wouldn’t go as far as using the words sensationalist or salacious. Unwise, preposterous and plain old toe-curling in parts would be nearer the mark.

There are eight, hour-long episodes; I had access to the first.

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Made by STV Studios for BBC Scotland, the trouble starts early doors with the subject’s introduction to himself and his firm. Imagine it playing out as a call and response with the citizens of his home town of Glasgow.

Mr Anwar: “I’m one of the country’s leading lawyers.”

Glasgow: “Are ye, aye?”

Mr Anwar: “My firm is known for taking on some of the biggest cases in Scotland’s legal history.”

Glasgow: “Is it, aye?”

Mr Anwar: “We’ve made a name for ourselves fighting for the underdog.”

Glasgow: “Have you, aye?”

There’s nothing factually wrong with what he says, but the delivery is so over the top he sounds like movie trailer guy introducing the new Batman film, with himself as the caped crusader.

The action moves to his swish offices. We see the workforce arriving, everyone striding in slo-mo across Blythswood Square. Here comes the boss, flanked by his PA and another colleague. How very Human League. One half expects the opening bars of “Don’t You Want Me?” to start playing.

The film finally gets down to business. Mr Anwar introduces the case he has been working on for seven years, the death in police custody of Sheku Bayoh. Talking straight to camera, he is lucid, persuasive, a class act. I’d hire him in a minute.

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Similarly, the section where he talks about the night he was attacked by police is handled brilliantly.

But then there is the other stuff. One scene features a tracking shot of a woman walking, again in slo-mo, wearing Louboutins with their trademark red soles. Later there is more walking, more legs, more heels. Did no-one question this?

I think I can see what has happened here. Mr Anwar tells the filmmakers he wanted glamorous offices, “something like Suits”, referring to the glossy legal drama showing on Netflix. But the first series of Suits aired in 2011. Times have changed. Watch it now and the show looks dated and cheesy.

Talking of suits, there’s a scene of Mr Anwar shopping for suits with his PA. It’s like Tutti Frutti’s Eddie Clockerty and Miss Toner have never been away.

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This kind of carry on might be fine if Mr Anwar was the head of some trendy tech start-up, or a young swashbuckling financier, but he is not.

You can have a serious documentary about the law, or a silly film about office life, but as The Firm shows, you cannot combine the two.

Hate to say it, but I think the little voice warning Mr Anwar against allowing the cameras in was right.