The Dock Brief

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The Dock Brief
Trial and error dvd cover.JPG
Cover of 1999 DVD version
Directed by James Hill
Written by Screenplay: Pierre Rouve
Play: John Mortimer
Starring Peter Sellers
Richard Attenborough
Beryl Reid
David Lodge
Frank Pettingell
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (USA/UK)
Release dates 25 September 1962
DVD 26 January 1999
Running time 88 minutes
DVD 77 minutes
Language English

The Dock Brief (US title Trial and Error) is a 1962 black-and-white British legal satire directed by James Hill, starring Peter Sellers and Richard Attenborough, and based on the play of the same name written by John Mortimer (creator of Horace Rumpole).

Richard Attenborough was nominated for the 1963 BAFTA Award for best British Actor for his role.


After 40 years of undistinguished practice Wilfred Morgenhall (Sellers), a cynical and unsuccessful barrister, is overjoyed to be assigned a dock brief: the defence of an accused murderer.

His client Herbert Fowle (Attenborough), is a meek man who wants to plead guilty to murdering his wife. Through a series of courtroom scenes and flashbacks the lead-up to the crime unfolds, involving Fowle taking in a lodger (David Lodge), who takes a more-than-passing interest in Mrs. Fowle (Beryl Reid). Morgenhall, given an opportunity to shine for the first time in his life, insists on pleading his client "not guilty."

But the case does not go as planned: Morgenhall botches the pleadings and Fowle is found guilty. As Morgenhall drowns his sorrows in a pub, he learns that the Home Office has overruled the verdict: Fowle has been declared not guilty on the grounds that his defence was inadequate.

The film was released in the USA under the title "Trial and Error."



According to MGM records, the film made a profit of $141,000.[1]


Morgenhall: "Now you're the only case I've got, and the most difficult."

The New York Times: "Charming, comic...robustly amusing." (quoted from the DVD cover)


  1. ^ The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .