Appropriate Adult with Emily Watson and Dominic West ITV1 PREVIEW

Dominic West as Fred West. Pics: ITV

Rating ★★★★

ITV1 Sunday, 4 September, 9pm

Story: In 1994 Janet Leach, a mother of five from Gloucestershire, is at home making her children’s tea when the phone rings. Janet is on a course that, when completed, will enable her to train as a social worker. She is also on the list of ‘appropriate adults’, volunteers whom the police ask to sit in on interviews with vulnerable people to assist and safeguard their rights. The phone call is request to assist on her first case, that of 52-year-old Frederick Walter Stephen West…

Controversy has preceded this two-part dramatisation about Fred West, the depraved serial killer who is still vivid in memory, his arrest having occurred less than 20 years ago. His surviving daughter, Anne Marie Davis, in particular has condemned ITV1’s production.

Fred West hanged himself while on remand after being charged with 12 murders, his catalogue of crimes also including rape, abduction and child cruelty. Revisiting such events clearly reopens painful memories for all involved.

Executive producer Jeff Pope justifies making the two-part drama by asking, ‘Are there subjects that should never be tackled? My argument is that there have been many documentaries, newspaper articles and books that discuss what happened at Cromwell Street, and this is just as valid. Of course drama – to see something as if you are actually watching it happen – is far more powerful, so, rightly, there is a spotlight on what we are doing. But we do not glorify Fred or Rosemary West. There is no depiction of any violence.’ 

Emily Watson as Janet Leach
Pope is part of the award-winning team that has previously dramatised stories about the Yorkshire Ripper and Moors murders. Like those productions, Appropriate Adult does not depict the violence and horror of the crimes, but focuses on their repercussions.

Written by Neil McKay, it cleverly zooms in on the story of housewife Janet Leach, who was in line to train as a social worker and on the list of ‘appropriate adults’ to assist vulnerable adults and children in police custody. 

Emily Watson as Janet Leach
This is a brilliant way into the dauntingly awful events because Janet Leach is the viewers’ representative on screen. Excellently portrayed by double-Oscar nominee Emily Watson, the camera often focuses on her uncomprehending expression as Fred West denies or reveals his crimes to police.

One minute she is peeling potatoes at home, the next she is sitting next to a man she has never heard of as he describes strangling and dismembering his daughter, and wondering whether he should put her in the Wendy House or the bin.

Fred West’s disturbing manipulation
Dominic West is chilling as the affable monster Fred, a jovial bumpkin who says on being told police have found a thigh bone in his garden, ‘Can’t think how that got there.’

His self-serving manipulation knows no limits, as he appeals for sympathy as a loving patriarch, portrays himself as trying to help police and clear things up, and then to creepily try to manipulate the shocked Janet Leach.

As the appropriate adult, she has a bond of confidentiality with West, so while he hides some of his crimes from the police, he reveals them to Janet, unsettling her badly.

‘Do I know you from somewhere?’ he says to her at first, and a wave of dismay flashes across her face. Then later, ‘I know you’ve not always been loved and respected,’ and we get a flavour of the way he would worm his way into the confidence of his victims.

DC Hazel Savage (Sylvestra Le Touzel) with Leach and West

‘I don’t think I would like to play someone like West again’ 
It’s a stunning performance from Dominic West, here in a portrayal that could finally overwrite his reputation as McNulty in The Wire.

Filming it was difficult for the actor, who was thankful to be away from his wife and children during the shoot. He says, ‘Had they been around when I was filming, I don’t think I would have been so easily been able to act him. It was only possible in a finite, brief period away from home.

It was extraordinarily different to anything I have done before and I don’t think I would like to play someone like him again.’

Monica Dolan as Rosemary 
Equally disturbing is Rosemary West, the morally blank, foul-mouthed accomplice of her husband. Actress Monica Dolan dreaded researching her role when she was offered it. When her character sounds off about the inconvenience of the police searching her home or Janet Leach touching her belongings, once again incomprehension is the natural reaction.

This is a sobering film, but sensitively done. It has been painstakingly produced, based on detailed research and producer interviews with Janet Leach (Emily Watson also met her). It aims to tell something of the truth of a place no one wants to dwell.

Cast: Emily Watson Janet Leach, Dominic West Fred West, Robert Glenister Detective Superintendent John Bennett, Sylvestra Le Touzel Detective Constable Hazel Savage, Monica Dolan Rosemary West, Anthony Flanagan Mike, Sam Roukin Detective Constable Darren Law, Gerard Horan Howard Ogden, Seline Hizli Mae West, James McArdle Stephen West


  1. Sounds great, but bloody scary.

  2. It’s unsettling – once this ordinary mother hears the things West reveals, it almost infects her mind. Once you hear something, you can’t unhear it, if you get my meaning. Terrific performances too.

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