This edited volume contains sixteen articles by an interdisciplinary team of lawyers, sociologists and film experts circling around the interrelation between law and ‘the moving image’. This ambiguous expression denotes mostly ‘film’ in the present context but also, as Celia Lury’s contribution, ‘A more developed sign: the legal mediation of things’ shows, developments caused by imagery produced through trade marks and branding policies.


Other articles in the collection indicate that the term ‘moving image’ stands for the way in which law is depicted in the image of film, and how the law or legal process moves (emotionally) through the medium of film, especially when represented in ‘courtroom dramas’. This collection does not suggest that the relationship between law and film can be reduced to trial films and courtroom dramas, which would be an unsatisfactorily narrow definition, but trial films obviously still feature - for example in Leslie Moran’s article ‘On realism and the law film: the case of Oscar Wilde’. Moran contrasts two British films of Oscar Wilde’s life, both made in 1960, which triggered copyright litigation as regards the use of largely verbatim records of the Oscar Wilde trials in their film scripts (Warwick v Eisinger [1969] 1 Ch 508). Moran’s article also focuses on the creation of ‘reality’ through the different ways of filmic representation of Wilde’s trial in these two films. The problem of ‘realism’ in documentary films and television is also a central theme in the discussion of the televised Eichmann trial in Lawrence Douglas’s ‘Trial as documentary: images of Eichmann’.


Other contributions devote themselves more to the treatment of cultural creativity, especially through film, by the law and by legal policies. Fiona Macmillan’s ‘How the movie moguls learned to stop worrying and love the new technologies: copyright and film’ is an excellent and concise account of the operation of the global film industry and the cultural homogenisation that ensues. Copyright as the legal tool of commodification of cultural productions plays an essential role in the agglomeration of powers with the film industries through copyright ownership (and assignment) and the control of film distribution rights. Bill Grantham’s text ‘Cultural ‘patronage’ versus cultural ‘defence’: alternatives to national film policies’ gives an insightful description of the history of film policy in the US and Europe as an industrial self-protecting strategy or a mechanism for the achievement of cultural objectives.


Another theme in this collection of essays is the conceptualisation of legal phenomena through artistic-filmic criteria, especially in Eugene McNamee’s article ‘Once more unto the breach: Branagh’s Henry V, Blair’s war and the UK constitution’. He argues that film, as an aspect of culture, is an intervention into the ongoing constitutional life of the UK, and gives the example of Branagh’s film Henry V as an illustration. It is interesting to note that McNamee’s account of the UK legal system and the common law mirrors, probably inadvertently, almost completely Friedrich Carl von Savigny’s (1779-1861) ‘Volksgeist’ doctrine, when he says at p18,

If the legitimisation of legislation is based on parliamentary sovereignty as the proper means for the voice of the people to find expression, then the legitimation of such legal development in the common law is the idea of a spirit of the people which resides within the ongoing development of their laws, and which judges, through their long exposure and expert training, are uniquely qualified to access.


This is a nice example of the fact that (Prussian) conservative thought of the early 19th century and postmodernist approaches are often less far apart than some would perhaps wish to realise. Somewhat connected with the previous essay is the discussion of the filmic representation of common law as expressed in a specific court case. The subject-matter of William P. MacNeil’s contribution, ‘It’s the vibe!’: the common law imagery Down Under’ is the Australian film ‘The Castle’ (1997), which deals with issues of aboriginal landownership and dispossession and makes much reference to the Australian High Court case of Mabo v. The State of Queensland (No. 2) (1992) 107 ALR 1.


Fascinating as the whole book is, the one weak point is its introduction. Rather than giving a summary of each contribution, it would have been more beneficial to present an overarching theory that would link the diverse elements of aestheticism and film, of interpretation of narrative and authenticity, and of law, legal policy and legal process together.

This volume is not only an enjoyable read; it also demonstrates how much the law is intertwined with most aspects of social life, art and aesthetics, and how little lawyers tend to be aware of this. 7
Dr Andreas Rahmatian
School of Law, University of Stirling