Rillington Place, Tim Roth, Samantha Morton

Programme Name: Rillington Place - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Ethel Christie (SAMANTHA MORTON), John Christie (TIM ROTH) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Des Willie

Married to a monster: Ethel (Samantha Morton) and John Christie (Tim Roth)

One of Britain’s most chilling serial killers is depicted in this dark drama

★★★★ BBC1, starts Tuesday, 29 November, 9pm

JOHN REGINALD CHRISTIE’S crimes during the 1940s and 50s shocked and haunted Britain. 

He murdered at least eight women, including his wife, Ethel. He also testified against Timothy Evans for the murder of his wife and infant daughter, whom Christie had himself murdered.

Official dismay over the miscarriage of justice that resulted in Evans’ being hanged eventually helped to end capital punishment in 1965.

Dramatising the life of such a notorious psychopath is a delicate proposition if it is not to be labelled cheap or sensationalist. Writers Ed Whitmore and Tracey Malone have gone to great lengths to produce a serious drama, using original sources at the National Archives and interviewing surviving relatives.

The resulting three-part miniseries is dark, but does a good job of looking at a period of Christie’s life and trying to glimpse into how his type functions.

Tim Roth and Samantha Morton

 John Christie (TIM ROTH) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Des Willie

Voyeur: John Christie

The production is helped hugely by stunning performances. Tim Roth and Samantha Morton as Christie and his wife are superb. These are quiet characters and so much of the drama and menace comes from tone of voice and glances.

And what a purple period this is in Tim Roth’s career. We’ve recently seen him as one of Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight. Next up, he’s a sheriff in Canada in Tin Star. Then we’ll see him in David Lynch’s next instalment of Twin Peaks.

Rillington Place‘s three episodes are told from the viewpoints of different characters: Ethel, Timothy Evans (played by Nico Mirallegro) and finally Christie.

The opener asks how it is that Ethel could live with the manipulative, creepy pervert. She has family in Yorkshire,  where she and Christie are from, but still returns to him.

Christie pretends to have trained as a doctor

In truth, this question is never really answered – it’s probably beyond the insight of many writers to fathom such a thing out. All you can say is, she’s stuck with him and has to make the best of it.

Beryl Evans (JODIE COMER), Timothy Evans (NICO MIRALLEGRO)

Trapped: Beryl (Jodie Comer) and Timothy (Nico Mirallegro)

The middle episode is terribly sad. Evans and his young wife Beryl (Jodie Comer) move with their baby, Geraldine, into the upstairs flat at 10 Rilllington Place.

Evans is simple, illiterate, a liar, but essentially decent enough. But he is no match for the scheming, spying Christie. When Beryl wants an abortion, who better to assist than Christie, who has lied about having trained as a doctor. ‘More St John ambulance,’ as Ethel says quietly.

Wartime Notting Hill

Rillington Place is not a good advert for wartime Notting Hill, with its seedy lodgings and bleak streets, prostitutes hanging out of doorways. The era of shortages and desperation is cleverly evoked.

ITV has just given us In Plain Sight, which looked at another British serial murderer from the 1950s, Peter Manuel. What is the point of raking over these horrors?

Picture Shows: BEHIND THE SCENES - (C) BBC - Photographer: Des Willie

Behind the scenes: Rillington Place

Both dramas steer away from depicting the crimes, so titillation is not it. But, let’s face it, we are all curious to know what kind of people commit these crimes and how they get away with it for so long.

Serial killers are not ogres or deformed freaks. They are quietly spoken bald men in spectacles, like John Christie.

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