Kate Beckenham (Natascha McElhone) is a successful London lawyer who is marrying a man named Graham. In her latest court case she’ll be facing off against Jack Sullivan (James Frain), a fellow thirty-ish lawyer with a great track record and reputation for never losing.
Sullivan is representing a 20-something, floozy American lass (Parker Posey) who is suing her stepson for his inheritance after the death of her 70-something husband.
As the case goes to trial, Kate – a hopeless romantic – begins to fall for Jack and all of his dry, sarcastic wit.
What Rats Won’t Do (1998) explores the complicated relationship that grows between the two lawyers, also poking fun at the English justice system and its outdated rituals: wig-wearing, blatant sexism. The film was directed by Alastair Reid (The Road Builder) and written by Steve Coombes, Dave Robinson (Roughnecks) and William Osborne (The Scorpion King).
Both of the main characters, Kate and Jack, are a lot of fun to watch. I found Kate to be particularly relatable. She’s very determined to do her job well and be successful, but she’s also not completely confident. We all doubt ourselves at times, no matter how steady our path seems to be, and I really appreciated this aspect of the character.
McElhone and Frain have nice chemistry, and a great banter in their scenes together. Their relationship progresses slowly and naturally, rather than the film having them just dump their other loves and declare their affection for each other at first sight.
The relationship is interesting in juxtaposition with their court case as well. They’re growing to like each other outside of court, but as barristers they’re on opposing sides and constantly frustrated with each other’s attempts to win the case.
What Rats Won’t Do isn’t a wildly funny film, and at times it feels quite slow. However, there are a number of great moments, one example being Jack’s rant about how poorly female barristers are treated in the male-dominated field (and Kate’s lovestruck reaction to that rant).