Friday, December 23, 2016

In Plain Sight

Overlapping with BBC1's Rillington Place was In Plain Sight over on ITV1, another three-part real-life serial killer reconstruction set in the 1950s. Is this coincidence or are we witnessing the birth of a new genre, heritage serial killing?

The case of Peter Manual is much less familiar than that of Reg Christie. I wonder why? He was at least as prolific as Christie and also framed another man for his murders. Indeed Manuel is more scary than Christie in that he conducted his own defence in court, successfully beating a rape charge which left him free to claim police harassment whenever they tried to pin the murders on him. Is it, perhaps, because he was Scottish?

Fortunately the actors were Scottish and instead of being allowed to indulge themselves, as was the case on the BBC, here the casting went against type. Douglas Henshall was the stolid middleaged, family man detective and Martin Compston, the BBC's go-to guy for honest-as-the-day-is-long coppers was let loose on Manuel. Both were exceptional. Even in the lesser roles, the simmering, often brutish Gary Lewis was outstanding as William Watt, the man accused of murdering his own family. And as Manuel's father Samuel, Gilly Gilchrist, an actor I have not noticed before, gave us the moment everyone was talking about.

Nick Stevens' script, unfortunately, was a touch below par. I am still not clear what the script said about the trick that got Manuel to confess. I have looked it up and now know, but I'm not at all sure this came across in the programme. Essentially Stevens concentrated, as he needed to, on contrasting the simple family man Muncie with the psychopathic black sheep of the Manuel family. This was echoed in the portrayal of the families. The Muncie family with its teenaged daughter wanting to go to her first parties - just the type Manuel was preying on - and the Manuels, the father who gave his son alibis, thus allowing him to go on killing, the mother who knew but couldn't bring herself to tell anyone, and the sister who did try and get her brother sectioned but who nevertheless told him in the final episode, chillingly, "I'm still your sister, Peter."

John Strickland's direction was perfunctory and the cinematography basically involved pointing a camera at it. Yet, overall, the series was more compelling and satisfactory than Rillington Place.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rillington Place

No prizes were likely for guessing who Rillington Place (BBC1 mini-series November 29 to December 13) was about. Who can forget Richard Attenborough's career-changing turn as serial killer Reg Christie in the similarly-named 10 Rillington Place? Certainly not Tim Roth whose performance here was an impersonation of Dickie Attenborough rather than at attempt at the real Christie. He was scary enough - but how can you not be scary when you're playing a man who lured gullible women to his house of horror for backstreet abortions? And, note to TV hair-stylists who also copied Attenborough's hairstyle rather than Christie's, men go bald from the back of the heard first. Take it from one who knows. Been there, done that.

The difference here was the three-part structure, each focusing on a different character and their interlocking story-strand. The first was 'Ethel', the story of Reg's long-suffering wife and victim. The second was 'Tim', and the third 'Reg'. Writers Ed Whitmore and Tracey Malone used the device brilliantly. 'Ethel' ended with the arrival of Tim and Beryl Evans, 'Tim' with the realisation that Christie was the main witness against him, and 'Reg' began immediately after Tim went to the gallows. They created their own problem, though. 'Ethel' was by far the best episode, partly because it contained material from before the Christies moved from Yorkshire to London, but mainly because Samantha Morton's performance stood head and shoulders above everyone else's. She showed us how an intelligent woman can let herself be controlled by a scheming partner; how she will tolerate any level of abuse rather than admit her weakness.

Roth's performance has already been discussed. Other performances were, on the whole, not great. Nico Mirallegro and Jodie Comer as the hapless Tim and Beryl Evans were instantly forgettable. The only standout for me - in addition to Morton, that is - was Christopher Hatherall as Ethel's brother Harry, fighting every inclination to beat Reg to a pulp and just quietly seething.
The direction (Craig Viveiros) was very good, the design and cinematography (Pat Campbell and James Friend respectively) were superb raising postwar London from seedy to positively gothic.