This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This review contains spoilers.
Talk about delaying gratification. When viewers see the words ‘serial killer’ on their TV guide, they expect to see killings. A series of them. By holding John Christie’s version of events back until next week’s final episode, Rillington Place sets itself apart from its more gratuitously violent peers and announces that it’s telling a different kind of story. By so doing, it risks testing its audience’s patience.
Episode one’s careful portrait of Ethel Christie, a woman who gave in ineluctably to her quietly lethal husband, worked thanks to Tim Roth and Samantha Morton’s performances, and the socially responsible decision to tell Christie’s awful story from Ethel’s untold perspective.
Episode two, however, side-lined Roth and Morton to focus on Tim Evans, the young man wrongfully hanged for the killing of his wife and daughter, murders committed off-screen by Christie.
Evans’ horribly unjust story is just as worthy of telling as Ethel’s, but ultimately, much less fascinating. Hers was a psychological look at an abusive marriage, sadly just as relevant today as it was sixty years ago. It led us to understand why a wife might chose to stay with a man like Christie and showed us the societal pressures that caused her to do so.
Tim’s sad story was pure bad luck. Having seen him hang in the opening moments of episode one, and his wife’s corpse in the opening minutes of this week’s instalment, we knew what was to come. It was just a matter of waiting for it all to unfurl with a dread predictability, helped along by Stuart Earl’s ominous musical score.
It unfolded with Christie insinuating himself into the lives of upstairs lodgers Tim and Beryl (Nico Mirallegro and Jodie Comer, excellent young actors here respectively seen before in Jimmy McGovern’s Common and BBC Three’s Thirteen) through a carefully managed performance. Reg used Ethel to legitimise his seemingly avuncular interest in the couple, manipulating them into a position where he could murder Beryl and baby Geraldine and frame Tim for the crimes.
In his brief appearances this week, Roth’s studied gentleness was suitably sinister. He lurked and skulked as Christie, leaning into shot from doorways and offering comforting cups of tea with eerie timing. The performance was was such a perfect demonstration of the banality of evil, however, it almost tipped over into dullness.
Christie’s seeming omnipotence was duller still. A real-life story this may be, but that doesn’t stop the aftermath of Beryl’s murder feeling so unlikely as to niggle at the viewer’s sense of dramatic satisfaction. Tim and Beryl fell for Christie’s act every step of the way, as did the police. Evans played so willingly into Christie’s plan, the result lacked tension or conflict.
It needn’t have. Such a serious miscarriage of justice as Evans’ is clearly damning to the legal system of the time, and a worthwhile topic for drama. Puzzlingly though, Rillington Place has yet to place any blame at the feet of the police. Instead of following what was obviously a flawed investigation, we went with Tim on a trip to Wales where not a great deal happened. By the time of his return, Christie’s plan was in full operation and everything was going his way.
There’s nothing so strange as real life, it’s said, something born out by this section of Christie’s story.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, Ethel, here.