Colour prejudice is challenged in a real-life American story set in the past.


Chadwick Boseman


Court dramas have been a staple of stage and cinema for many years even if they are not particularly in vogue at present. No change in that respect is likely to arise from the release of Marshall, Reginald Hudlin’s example of that format, pleasant and watchable though it is. In the absence of any sharp imaginative spark, it comes across as a small traditional piece of work albeit for the most part an able one.


Marshall is Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) who would eventually become the first African-American Supreme Court Judge. Here, however, we meet him as a young lawyer seeking to take on the defence in a rape case in Connecticut on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. The year is 1940 and Eleanor Studing (Kate Hudson) a socialite has accused her negro chauffeur, Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), of raping her and then attempting to cover up his crime by killing her. The accused pleads his innocence but in this society colour prejudice is strong, a fact evidenced by the attitude of the prosecutor (Dan Stevens) and the unhelpful rulings of the judge (James Cromwell). It is the latter who stipulates that Marshall’s participation in the court hearing will be restricted, leaving it to the local lawyer, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) inexperienced in criminal cases, to handle such matters as the interrogation of witnesses.


Much of what we see on screen seems to follow the facts closely, although the screenplay does lack conviction when it comes to a key moment in which an outsider’s remark leads Marshall to reconsider his view of the case. However, the film does keep its balance in its portrayal of the relationship between Marshall and Sam Friedman since, despite some humour being allowed in, the duo never fall into the fictional cliché of unequal partners played for broad comedy. What is lacking is any real sense of urgency to the drama, a fact all the more apparent because Marshall runs on for almost two hours. But Boseman and Gad work well together, while Stevens wisely refuses to overplay even as he clearly reveals the prosecutor's prejudices.


Towards the close, Marshall has already moved on to another case and we are told that he took on thirty two other court appearances  with civil rights in mind and lost on only three occasions. The case treated here is, apparently, not one of his most famous and one wonders therefore if the filmmakers were hoping with Marshall to set up a franchise. That could well have been worthwhile, but it seems likely that this film lacks the clout to make that happen.




Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Sterling K. Brown, Dan Stevens, James Cromwell, Keesha Sharp, Derrick Baskin, Ahna O’Reilly, Roger Guenveur Smith, Barrett Doss, Zanete Shadwick.


Dir Reginald Hudlin, Pro Reginald Hudlin, Jonathan Sanger and Paula Wagner, Screenplay Jacob Koskoff and Michael Koskoff, Ph Newton Thomas Segal, Pro Des Richard Hoover, Ed Tom McArdle, Music Marcus Miller, Costumes Ruth E. Carter.


Chestnut Ridge Productions/China Wit Media/Starlight Media/Super Hero-Sony Pictures.
118 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 20 October 2017. Cert. 15.