BBC America’s new political thriller Undercover premiered on November 16 and 17 at 8/7c, with the six-hour miniseries airing in two nights. Undercover stars Sophie Okonedo as Maya Cobbina, a British lawyer fighting to prove the innocence of U.S. death row inmate Rudy Jones (Dennis Haysbert).
It’s not long before Maya’s private life threatens to undermine her position, making her the latest in a long line of female legal warriors whose battles do not end when they step out of the courtroom.
1. Erin Brockovich in Erin Brockovich
Okay, so the first on our list may not be a trained lawyer, but real-life legal clerk Erin Brockovich was instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California for contaminating water supplies in 1993. Julia Roberts won an Academy Award for portraying her in this 2000 movie, in which she delivered the immortal line: “I hate lawyers. I just work for them.”
2. Alicia Florrick in The Good Wife
Julianna Margulies plays the formidable Alicia, a stay-at-home mom who’s forced to return to her job as a litigator when her politician husband is jailed after a sex scandal. Her struggle to redefine her role as a mother, a wife and a lawyer makes this multi-layered story a joy to watch.
3. Elle Woods in Legally Blonde
Reese Witherspoon morphs from dumped Valley girl into righteous legal eagle in this classic 2001 comedy, proving anyone can pursue a law degree if they put their mind to it… though it’s her knowledge of women’s haircare that really clinches the deal in the end.
4. Martha Costello in Silk
Like Undercover, Silk takes place in London’s wood-paneled chambers of court, where barristers (lawyers) still wear the traditional garb of robes and wigs, and the rules are centuries old. Enter Martha Costello (Maxine Peake), an ambitious and feisty QC (Queen’s Counsel) who’s uncompromising in court and isn’t afraid to say what she thinks without all the stuffy legalese.
5. Marcia Clark in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
Sarah Paulson won an Emmy for her portrayal of Marcia Clark, the prosecutor who, in front of millions of viewers worldwide, failed to convince a jury that O.J. Simpson was guilty of the crimes with which he was charged. She may not have won the case in the end, but she never gave up.
6. Patty Hewes in Damages
The ultimate alpha female, Patty Hewes is an arrogant, unapologeticly flawed anti-hero. She works too hard, but nevertheless has astute legal skills, a strange sense of loyalty and a killer litigation instinct. The role won Glenn Close a Golden Globe and two Emmys.
7. Joséphine Karlsson in Spiral
Audrey Fleurot‘s performance takes elements of the familiar persona of the hard-bitten female cop and brings them to her role as lawyer Joséphine Karlsson in French crime drama Engrenages (or Spiral, as it was known in English). A clever, ambitious, and highly cynical young lawyer, Joséphine is always on the lookout for cases that will earn her maximum exposure and money.
8. JoAnne Galloway in A Few Good Men
Everyone remembers the courtroom scene in this movie, and Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson)’s famous outburst, “You can’t handle the truth!” when Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) cross-examines him. But it is the tenacious Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway, played by a steely Demi Moore, who first offers to defend two Marines charged with murder, and who convinces Daniel that there’s a case in the first place.
9. Shirley Schmidt in Boston Legal
A founding member of Crane, Poole and Schmidt, Shirley is a formidable lawyer played by Candice Bergen in this noughties legal dramedy. She’s certainly got her hands full, what with practicing law, directing litigation, reminding her younger colleagues that she’s “Schmidt”, and reining in Denny Crane (William Shatner).
10. Gareth Peirce in In the Name of the Father
This 1993 film told the story of the Guildford Four, four people falsely convicted of an IRA bombing of a pub in Guildford, England, in 1974, which killed four off-duty British soldiers and a civilian. Daniel Day-Lewis played Gerry Conlon, with Pete Postlethwaite as his father Giuseppe, and Emma Thompson the pioneering lawyer Gareth Peirce who campaigned for their convictions to be overturned. All three received Oscars.
The six-hour miniseries Undercover will air over two back to back nights, tonight (November 16) and Thursday (November 17).
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