Richard Attenborough gives, absolutely, his best and most memorable performance as British serial killer John Reginald Christie. In 1953 he was convicted of the killing of his wife Ethel, after admitting to a further 6 murders. Unfortunately this was years AFTER his lodger Timothy Evans was wrongly convicted and hanged of the murder of his wife and 13 month old daughter, one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British crime history.
What impresses me about this is how it makes its argument, without belabouring it, for the idea that Tim Evans is one of Christie’s victims, and how it shows without belabouring the point where sexism enables Christie’s predation. The former is fairly clear: manipulating Evans is simple enough, and the confusing web of compulsive lies only serves to entangle him deeper in the web. A use of relative privilege (simply being better educated, even if marginally) destroys Tim Evans, and Christie’s actions are at the core of it.
The film itself is a dark and brooding masterpiece which depicts life in post-war London perfectly. The grim, dirty, rain-washed Rillington Place in Notting Hill was a seedy side street which housed the poor but largely respectable families which had survived the blitz. John Christie had moved down from the North to find work in the capital but ill-health and a penchant for petty crime prevented him from being successful.
Richard Attenborough plays the downtrodden but curiously arrogant Christie to perfection. His voice almost a whisper as he lauds it over London’s underclasses. In fact Christie was not a landlord, as many believe, he was merely a tenant who fancied himself to be a landlord and acted accordingly. He also dreamed of being a doctor, with devastating consequences. His treatment of the poor, subnormal Evans (John Hurt) and his beautiful but foolish young wife, Beryl, (Judy Geeson) was centred around their desire for an abortion – illegal in the UK until the late 1960s.
The film was made in the United Kingdom and this style bodes well with the theme of the film, as it’s downtrodden and makes sure that the film is firmly planted in the land in which the story took place. The idea of an innocent man not only going down, but being killed, for a crime he did not commit is shocking and the cold way that it is presented in this film reflects the fact that it actually happened and also gives it more of a degree of shock.
A film I will not be forgetting an a hurry.
The transfer that Indicator have put forward (which is, I believe, the same transfer that Twilight Time released in the US) is incredible. Every scene, even the ones in the dank, grimy interiors really pop. The special features package kicks off with a couple of interviews, with Richard Attenborough (filmed a few years ago) and Judy Geeson (filmed in 2016). 2 commentaries are included, one with John Hurt (which Is more about the case history) and a 2nd one with Judy Geeson, Lem Dobbs and moderated by Nick Redman. By having a, quite recent, interest in the Christie case AND of the film, this plethora of information is fascinating. Also included is, quite strangely, an isolated score track. I only say strange because there is not very much music in the film. Still, it’s cool to have.
Crime, Drama |UK, 1971 | 15 | Powerhouse Films | 28th November 2016 (UK) | Dir: Richard Fleischer | Richard Attenborough, John Hurt, Judy Geeson, Pat Heywood | Buy:[Dual Format] [Blu-ray]