|Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes|
These trials took place only a few years after the trial of OJ Simpson for murder in 1995, a trial that was in its time widely claimed to be the trial of the century – albeit a different century. Indeed, it is possible to find the claim being made about large numbers of trials going back to the early years of the twentieth century. Other candidates for the ‘trial of the century’ include variously the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (1951), the Nuremberg trials (1945), the Scopes ‘Monkey’ trial (1925), the trial of Leopold and Loeb (1924), and the trial of Harry Thaw (1906) – and large numbers of trials in between. That we cannot know which criminal trial was ‘the’ trial of this, or any other century, has not hindered the rush to label trials in this fashion.
It is easy to make fun of this, and in a way that is precisely what Sherlock was doing. However, beyond the attempt to build up the profile or significance of the event, to attract viewers or readers, it does raise some more serious underlying issues. Why do we use this tag so often? Why is it that ‘trials of the century’ seem to be occurring ever more frequently? And is there something about this – or the last – century that accords special significance to criminal trials?
|Moriarty on trial|