Rillington Place takes place before, during and after World War II, and centres around serial killer John Christie, in a tale that’s been told previously as 10 Rillington Place, starring Richard Attenborough, a film I’d never got round to seeing, so it’s nice to see it afresh in this new three-part BBC drama series, with Tim Roth in the lead role and Samantha Morton as his wife, Ethel. And if you’re going to get the best actors you can find, then you know the scene is set for an engaging drama.
It begins with a man called Tim Evans (Nico Mirallegro) being set up for the crime and what follows, which all takes place during the opening credits, so don’t panic that I mentioned that here. Flashback then to 12 years earlier, and John, who everyone refers to as Reg, has been missing for 9 years and has just come back on the scene. Ethel’s a mix of elation and confusion, but both of those feelings will soon change.
The drama echoes the grim, fog-bound period feel with dirty, grimy streets. “Apparently this is a very sought-after area”, the returned man states as they move in, when it looks like a place you’d run a mile from.
We see Ethel hunkering down in the bunker while the bombs drop and husband John was out doing his policeman-style duties, yet when she returned, her husband’s not in the house, the bed’s been stripped of the sheets and the whole room stinks of perfume. He wa soutside in the back yard, digging a massive hole… He blamed the dog ‘leaving her a present’. Elsewhere, he bided his time by buying her posh chocs in a time of actual austerity, not one enforced by a government while they coin it in themselves with £80,000-a-time speeches.
Feeling trapped in a bad relationship, some women only have to worry about their men being unfaithful, but what if they go way beyond that?
There was a deliciously clever early line from Roth when they went to see a murder mystery at the cinema. He told her afterwards: “The end’s not so cheerful”, to which she replies, “Well, he had to get his comeuppance, didn’t he?” – clearly a taste of things to come?
This first episode certainly set the appropriate tone and never let up with that, but it needed to offer more of the story. I understand dripfeeding, but this didn’t feed us enough. Perhaps two 90-minute episodes would’ve been better, but that’s not easy when the programme can’t start before 9pm due to our watershed, and the BBC won’t budge on a 10pm news start time. As I said, I needed to see more, so another option is to do like New Blood and release all three on the BBC iPlayer from the start, since we’re all into binge-watching these days.
NOTE: I’ve since seen parts 2 and 3, ahead of transmission, and obviously no spoilers, even though it’s a true story, but I’ll just say that while part 1 was a 7/10 for me, part 2 was worth 8, and part 3 is worth a full 10 as it was gripping from start to finish. Tim Roth has played some incredible and memorable roles over the past 25 years, but this is one of his best. If you haven’t watched any of it yet, do be sure to catch it all on the iPlayer once it’s up. I will say that I would’ve preferred all three episodes to air over one week rather than in separate weeks, given the tightness of the storyline.
Rillington Place continues next Tuesday on BBC1 at 9pm, and is available to pre-order on Blu-ray and DVD, ahead of its release on January 16th 2017. The first episode is available to watch on BBC iPlayer. Also, click on the top image for the full-size version.
Episode 1 Score: 7/10
Episode 2 Score: 8/10
Episode 3 Score: 10/10
Director: Craig Viveiros
Producer: Sharon Bloom
Writers: Tracey Malone and Ed Whitmore
Music: Stuart Earl
Ethel Christie: Samantha Morton
John (Reg) Christie: Tim Roth
Pierrepoint: John-Paul Hurley
Harry: Christopher Hatherall
Arthur: Chris Reilly
Beryl: Jodie Comer
Janice: Sonya Cassidy
Tim Evans: Nico Mirallegro
Dr. Odess: Tim Bentinck
Sandra: Leanne Rowe
Hodges: Steven Elder
Muriel: Sarah Quintrell
Mrs. Carlin: Cara Kelly
Streetwalker: Helen McAlpine
Brenda: Sophie Wise
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.