This review contains spoilers.
Did Jeremy Bamber (Freddie Fox) really tell his girlfriend Julie Mugford (Alexa Davies) that he planned to have his family assassinated or is she just a jealous woman out to spite Bamber after he dumped her? That’s the dilemma the police are facing in episode five of ITV’s drama series White House Farm following the aftermath of the shooting of five members of a family at the titular estate in Essex in 1985.
At the end of episode four, Mugford was at the end of her tether and ready to talk, and much of ep five is told in flashback based on Mugford’s confession – whether these flashbacks are what really happened or Julie taking revenge is for the police to pick through. Mark Addy’s gently persistent DS Stan Jones is quite sure what she’s saying is the truth – or at least a true account of what Jeremy told her – but Stephen Graham’s Taff won’t budge and it’s become increasingly apparent he’s more interested in saving face than listening to the facts and what the rest of his team think. By the end of the episode – the second to last in the series – and he’s off the case allowing things to move forward properly at last.
This episode spotlights Julie and it’s a slightly uncomfortable portrait. If Jeremy is shown as the cruel, callous cad then Julie is very much his amoral accomplice. Flashbacks show the two together while Jeremy steals money from the caravan park; later a scene in a nightclub sees Jeremy flirt with other women and then tease and kiss Julie conspicuously. It harks back to a scene earlier in the series where the two have a fight and then get frisky in a dark alley. Is Julie attracted to Jeremy’s dark side? Does his reckless and toxic behaviour turn her on?
The nightclub scene is immediately juxtaposed with a shot of a corn field – the sleaze of their world, set against the peaceful countryside. Likewise, Julie is played as pale, brittle and volatile, dressed in slightly severe or showy outfits – the opposite of the wholesome and earthy Ann (Gemma Whelan) who only plays a small part in this episode.
There’s a shot of Julie fixing her make-up as the police drive her to the farm straight after the murders too, cementing this idea of her as something of a fallen woman, along with several scenes where she jokes with Jeremy about him killing his family. While it’s plausible she never thought he’d go ahead with it, the fact that she names a local man Jeremy apparently told her he had hired as a hit man makes her incredulity a bit more suspect. And when Colin (Mark Stanley), the most sympathetic character and a constant reminder to the audience that we are dealing with the deaths of children, talks of the betrayal he feels from not just Jeremy but also Julie for keeping quiet for so long, the show isn’t letting her off too easy. It’s an interesting performance from Davis – not played as brassy or calculating, Julie is rather more inscrutable, a woman foolishly in love with the handsome but cold Jeremy though it’s not entirely clear why. Fox and Davis don’t have a great deal of chemistry though he’s not given a soft side at all – the closest we come to sympathy for Jeremy is in a moment of self pity where he proclaims that everyone hates him.
Taff is insistent Julie’s not a credible witness but a woman scorned, but fortunately key bits of info like the latch on the window which can be locked from the outside, mean her statement is still enough to get Jeremy arrested. Taff is overruled, his pride severely knocked. Graham is excellent as usual, his thick Welsh accent only mildly distracting.
If you’re in any doubt this far into the series that Jeremy was a sleazebag, in addition to being a murderer, a scene where he attempts to sell nude pictures of his dead sister to the Sun newspaper for £20,000 (and instead the paper reports on his attempt to sell them) puts a nail in that coffin. Fox is smarmy and smug, none more so when he’s trying to discredit Julie by writing her a note from his interrogation room saying sorry they broke up.
It’s a strong lead into the final ep, with the net finally closing around Jeremy. If he’s perhaps become something of a matinee villain five episodes in, it’ll likely serve the drama of his eventual undoing. However, the show doesn’t quite manage to really get to the heart of why, or how, someone could actually gun down their whole family, including two small children, and seemingly feel nothing about it afterwards. Given the real-life Bamber still protests his innocence perhaps that’s an impossible task – it’s great TV nonetheless, despite the very real tragedy at its core.
Read Rosie’s review of the previous episode here.