'Janet King': A Legal Drama With A Striking Star

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·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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If you’re looking for a new lawyer show and enjoy accents other than American ones, Janet King: The Enemy Within — premiering on Monday on the streaming service Acorn TV — is an intriguing possibility. It stars Marta Dusseldorp as the title character, an Australian barrister returning to work after maternity leave and instantly plunged into a couple of high-pressure cases.

It’s easy to get caught up on what you need to know about the Australian justice system — just that King’s title is “senior crown prosecutor” and that in court she wears one of those wigs you see on British TV a lot. (You’re welcome; my mail-order barrister license really came in handy there.) And the central case King is prosecuting is a morally compelling one: whether or not a high-ranking police officer euthanized his ailing wife.

Janet King is not an especially original show; its cast of characters includes a blustery, ineffectual boss; an ambitious solicitor looking to horn in on King’s territory. Courtroom drama is contrasted with cozy scenes of King’s home-life with her young children and life partner (Aimee Pedersen).

What the series has going for it most of all is its star. Marta Dusseldorp already has a cult following for her starring role in the soapy period drama A Place to Call Home, and she’s a proven compelling presence: Janet King is actually a spin-off from another Australian show, Crownies, in which Dusseldorp played King in a more minor role. It’s easy to see why viewers are drawn to the actress: Her glossy blonde allure is matched by a piercing gaze and a crisp-but-throaty manner of speaking. Janet’s flaxen tendrils carefully peeking from beneath the courtroom wig are designed to signal the sensuous person beneath the horsehair.

Dusseldorp is even more lustrous in A Place To Call Home, a 1950s-era drama and an Aussie version of a Douglas Sirk melodrama—it’s not difficult to picture Dusseldorp acting opposite Sirk favories such as Rock Hudson or John Gavin. (Home has aired on some PBS stations as well as Acorn TV.) She is central to nearly every scene in Janet King; the producers understand that without her onscreen, there’s not a lot to hold an audience that’s seen legal shows like this for many years.

How long Dusseldorp will want to prop up this series — it has an eight-episode first season, with another one in production — is an open question. It seems unlikely that some big feature-film producer isn’t molding a movie role for her right now.

Janet King: The Enemy Within is streaming now on Acorn TV.