Prima Facie

Prima Facie
Director: Justin Martin
Writer: Suzie Miller
Cast: Jodie Comer
Seen on: 30.8.2022

Content Note: rape

Tessa (Jodie Comer) has worked very hard to get to where she is now: a successful barrister with more wins under her belt than losses. She has no problem defending her clients, even in cases of sexual assaults. The system, after all, is built on “innocent until proven guilty”. But then an unexpected event changes her outlook drastically.

Prima Facie is a hard watch, but only because it is so very good. Comer is mind-blowingly fantastic and the story definitely packs a punch or ten. I’d definitely recommend it, but prepare yourself.

The production poster showing a screaming Tessa (Jodie Comer) superimposed over her looking calm, eyes closed, in an attorney's whig.

Prima Facie opens with a trigger warning, and it is necessary indeed. I didn’t expect that a play with only one character on stage could be so graphic in its description of a rape, but here we are. And that’t not even touching on the generally fucked up nature of criminal proceedings in rape cases that is also made very transparent here. (The dude next to me scoffed at the beginning of the play when he saw the trigger warning, but by the end, he was pretty much floored, so maybe one more person in the world understands what those warnings are for.) The play also gets the tone very right here, focusing on the impact of the assualt on the victim and none of the titillation that so often finds its way into rape scenes, as fucked up as that is.

If you’ve paid a little attention to rape cases in the media and/or feminist discussions of rape culture, there is probably nothing that will surprise you here. The way the victims’ testimonies are discarded and doubted, the way victims are systemically discouraged to press charges, the way it is an uphill battle for them, the way their own reputation is destroyed by being a victim… nothing of that is new. But Prima Facie summarizes it succinctly, focusing on the legal system in the process and how little it is prepared for traumatized victims. Most importantly, it transports just how destructive and violating the entire thing is and makes you feel the emotional impact in every second.

Tessa (Jodie Comer) sitting in an armchair at the table.

Comer spends pretty much the entire runtime of 2 hours on stage, alone and with barely a second to breathe. It is not only impressive simply with regards to her stamina, her performance is absolutely amazing, slipping into different facets of her characters and also into other characters for short moments. If I hadn’t thought before that she was really fucking good, I would know so now.

Despite showing all the problems with how we deal with rape cases (and that is no different in the UK than it is in Austria, I’m afraid, or in the USA – it’s a pretty common phenomenon in the Western world at least), Prima Facie also finds the pockets of strengths in everything. Tessa’s inner resources, her friends and family, even a short encouraging touch from a police woman. It keeps Tessa from being reduced to being a victim, and it emphasizes just how important it is that we support and believe victims. And it leaves us with a deeply necessary modicum of hope. Things are bad, but they can be better.

Tessa (Jodie Comer) sitting on the table, behind her rows and rows and rows of binders full of legal cases.

Summarizing: fantastic and harsh.

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