The first season of FX’s anthology show
American Crime Story is making headlines for its on-point casting in its dramatization of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, including Cuba Gooding, Jr. as the disgraced footballer, Sarah Paulson as head prosecutor Marica Clark, and John Travolta as defense attorney Robert Shapiro. Before the show’s premiere on February 2, here’s 10 of the best and most memorable court room portrayals of real people on TV.
Paul Giamatti as John Adams in John Adams (2008)
This massive, $100 million miniseries depicts the major events of the future president’s political and professional career, beginning in court when a 35-year-old Adams is asked to defend the Redcoats, perpetrators of the 1770 Boston Massacre. Giamatti carries the rest of the series through early American history: the founding of the United States, the Revolutionary War, and his term as the second President of the United States. For his performance, Giamatti won the Emmy, Golden Globe, and SAG award.
Farrah Fawcett as Francine Hughes in The Burning Bed (1984)
For 13 years, Michigan housewife Hughes was abused and battered by her husband Mickey. In 1977, after separating and moving back in together, Hughes gathered up her kids and set fire to Mickey’s bed before driving to the police station to confess to the killing. In court, she was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. Fawcett as Hughes was nominated for both the Emmy and Golden Globe.
Al Pacino as Phil Spector in Phil Spector (2013)
Pacino went through a brief late-career resurgence playing high-profile court figures like Dr. Jack Kevorkian (more on that later) and Wall of Sound creator Phil Spector. After years of whispers and rumors of unsavory behavior, Spector was brought into court for the murder of Lana Clarkson, a former model who was found dead from a single gunshot wound in Spector’s home. Pacino mostly covers the first murder trial (a hung jury necessitated a second trial in order to convict Spector), for which he was Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated.
Drew Barrymore as Amy Fisher in The Amy Fisher Story (1993)
During her rebellious Lolita years (which also produced the Poison Ivy movie), Barrymore portrayed this Long Island teenager who started an affair with Joey Buttafuoco and shot and maimed Buttafuoco’s wife. Fisher spent seven years in jail (while Joey spent four months for statutory rape) and upon re-entering society, pursued a career in journalism and film pornography.
Alec Baldwin as Justice Robert H. Jackson in Nuremberg (2000)
In 1945, an international tribunal was held in Nuremberg, Germany to prosecute the surviving members of Nazi leadership, most notably Hermann Goring (played by Brian Cox). The Allied participants each sent a chief prosecutor. For the United States, it was Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, portrayed by Baldwin who has plenty to work with thanks to Jackson’s penchant for delivering big, grandstanding speeches. Baldwin was nominated for a Golden Globe for this role.
Holly Hunter as Wanda Holloway in The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (1993)
With a title like a cross between Chris Columbus and John Waters, this TV-movie sees Hunter as the “Pom-Pom Mom,” a Texas mother who takes news of her daughter failing to make the cheerleading squad badly. Holloway attempts to hire a hit-man and kill the mother of her daughter’s cheer rival. Instead, Holloway was sentenced to 15 years in jail (serving half) and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution.
Al Pacino as Jack Kevorkian in You Don’t Know Jack (2010)
Pacino plays Dr. Death himself in this Barry Levinson-directed TV movie. For decades, Kevorkian had administered assisted suicides for terminal medical patients living in debilitating pain, up until he was at last convicted for second-degree homicide towards the final years of his life. The film is a thought-provoking look on the man who made right-to-die his life’s work, and Pacino captured the Emmy, Golden Globe, and SAG award for his portrayal.
Penelope Ann Miller as Mary Kay Letourneau in All-American Girl: The Mary Kay Letourneau Story (2000)
Miller portrays a middle school teacher who, in 1997, was caught having a sexual relationship with one of her 12-year old students. Letourneau gave birth to his daughter while awaiting sentencing and after serving three months, was arrested again for her relationship and sentenced to seven more years. Four years after All-American Girl was released, Letourneau was freed once more and married the student, now 21, and has hosted “Hot For Teacher” nights at Seattle nightclubs.
Rob Lowe as Jeff Ashton in Prosecuting Casey Anthony (2013)
In one of the most media frenzied court cases of the 21st century so far, Lowe plays an assistant state attorney in the trial of Casey Anthony, who has been charged with murdering her two-year old daughter Caylee in Friday. The film explores the evidence the prosecutors dealt with in addition to the public crucible that comes with a trial obsessed over by the nation.
Jim Broadbent as Frank Pakenham in Longford (2006)
Directed by John Adams‘ Tom Hooper, Broadbent plays a long-serving Labour Party member whose frequent visits to prisons got him involved in advocating the release of Myra Hindley, who had been pinned to the Moors murder of the 1960s that saw five English children murdered. Known for championing outcasts and difficult causes (including decriminalizing homosexuality in the 1950s), the Longford Prize today is named in his honor and given to advocates of penal reform.