The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, ITV, Jason Watkins, Anna Maxwell Martin PREVIEW

Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
In the spotlight – when police suspicion falls on Jefferies, the media circus consumes him. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: Wednesday, 10 December, 9pm; Thursday, 11 December, 9pm

Story: When Joanna Yeates, the resident of a property he owns, is found murdered, the pedantic and eccentric retired teacher Christopher Jefferies finds himself under suspicion.

ITV HAVE become specialists in dramatising true crime stories that have grabbed national headlines in recent decades. These have sometimes been controversial but usually sensitively produced.

This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, See No Evil: The Moors Murders, The Widower and Appropriate Adult (about Fred West) are all recent examples.

This latest is another considered and absorbing production, following events in 2010 surrounding the murder of Joanna Yeates. It focuses on the media frenzy and vilification of the victim’s landlord, the eccentric – ‘Nutty’ as the headlines had it – Christopher Jefferies, who was wrongly arrested for the crime.

Jason Watkins is terrific in the lead

It’s an absorbing drama, with fine performances depicting how the tragic disappearance and murder

Shaun Parkes as Paul Okebu in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies
Shaun Parkes as Jefferies’ solicitor

of Joanna Yeates ruptured the everyday normality in this little Bristol community. Jason Watkins is terrific as the pedantic, bookish and eccentrically coiffured Jefferies, hair-spraying his barnet or asking investigating plod if he should correct the spelling on the statement they are taking down from him.

Shaun Parkes is also very good as his solicitor, listening to the detectives going round in circles trying to corner Jefferies with their questions, while he seethes at the injustice visited on his client.

In one telling scene towards the end of the first of this week’s two 90-minutes instalments, Jefferies is finally released from the nick to be confronted by the media character assassination that accompanied his incarceration.

‘Based on true events’ genre

‘Weird’, ‘sinister’, ‘creepy’ scream the headlines, while even the school he work at for 34 years

Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies and Howard Coggins as Custody Officer in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies
In custody – Jason Watkins as Jefferies

distances itself from him. In the aftermath of Hackgate, this story is another reminder of how ordinary people can get caught and minced in the grinder of media excess.

Peter Morgan, the writer behind true-life dramatisations such as Frost/Nixon, The Damned United and The Queen, among others, does a fine job of allowing the story to unfold in a sober but compelling way.

The ‘based on true events’ genre is a difficult one to do well and truthfully, but ITV have become masters of the form. I think the value of these stories is that they take us behind the wild headlines and the legal process, giving some small insight into how such dark events could ever have unfolded.

Cast: Jason Watkins Christopher Jefferies, Ben Caplan Charles Chapman, Shaun Parkes Paul Okebu, Nathalie Armin Melissa Chapman, James Lailey Dc Paul Connor, Joe Coen Dc Paul Batty, Ben Frimstone Postman, Anna Maxwell Martin Janine, Matthew Barker Greg Reardon, Carla Turner Joanna Yeates, Joe Sims Vincent Tabak, Jennifer Higham Tanja, Colin Mace Peter Stanley

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