This review contains spoilers.
“Young Bamber. You think he’s a selfish arrogant twat, but that doesn’t make him a murderer. I hope for his sake you can tell the difference…” Stephen Graham’s DCI Taff there, delivering a bitter farewell to Mark Addy’s Stan Jones who’s finally got the upper hand in the case against Jeremy Bamber, accused of killing five members of his own family. It’s a pointed remark that’s also something of a mission statement for the final episode of ITV’s six part drama based on a true case, White House Farm.
There is no question that Bamber, played by Freddie Fox, is indeed a selfish, arrogant twat – the episode opens with him and his mate Brett, played by Alfie Allen, living it up in a slightly gauche San Tropez resort. But that, indeed, does not make him a murderer. Nor does the the discovery of a possible point of entry to the house, via scratches on a shower room window and a fine saw blade which matches the scratches just outside, since Bamber claims he broke into the house long after the murders because he forgot his key and needed documents for his holiday.
When it comes to the court case that forms the centre of this episode it’ll be up to the jury, and by extension the audience, to decide.
A crime scene mishandled, unreliable forensic evidence and Bamber’s family dead and therefore unable to testify about whether or not Sheila was violent towards the kids in the past, leaves a trial that very much hinges on the credibility of the witnesses. Namely Jeremy vs his ex-girlfriend Julie Mugford (Alexa Davies) who testifies that Jeremy confessed to the crime to her both before and after it was carried out.
Julie is hardly a dependable witness – charges against her as an accessory have been dropped and the fact that Jem had dumped her just prior to her coming forward to police doesn’t speak highly of her reliability. A former instance of cheque fraud which comes to light during the trial suggests her honesty might be in question and when Julie admits that she wanted to be the one to identify the bodies (in episode one) so she could ask the advice of the deceased June and Sheila, believing she can talk to the dead, and it’s hit and miss whether Stan will actually get his man after all.
Bamber holds his own on the stand but his cool, and again, arrogant, demeanour might just be his undoing (in this adaptation at least). Stills of the crime scene immediately after the shooting are intercut, including those of the victims (although notably not the two boys) reminding us not to feel too sorry for Jeremy as the jury gives their verdict.
And any sympathy we might have had for Julie, who is tearful throughout her testimony and has the aspect of a woman blinded by love into making bad choices, is removed in a moment post-trial where we see her selling her story to the News Of The World for £25,000.
Stan is really the hero of the piece and the formerly gentle and unassuming officer finally gets to unleash his righteous indignation over a case he’s pursued relentlessly, not for the sake of his career or being right but in order to get justice for the two boys killed that day. Addy is excellent and when we learn in the end titles telling us the fates of the main players that Stan was neither decorated nor officially celebrated for his tireless work on the case, his depiction feels like a fitting tribute. Final words are given to Colin (Mark Stanley), father to the dead boys and ex-husband of Sheila, who emphasises how important to him it is that Sheila’s name was cleared and she would be remembered as a wonderful woman and mother. It’s a solemn last beat in a show that handles a gruesome case with sensitivity.
The end titles take pains to point out that Jeremy always maintained his innocence and that supporters continue to campaign for a new trial, though the conviction has always been upheld by the courts. In White House Farm it’s pretty clear that Bamber is a selfish arrogant twat and a murderer, though for better or worse it’s Freddie Fox’s great screen presence and charismatically awful portrayal that lifts the show from being the tale of a depressing family tragedy to something a little more thrilling.
We love to see a criminal be the cause of his own downfall so while the outcome at the end of the series is hardly a surprise (and certainly not for anyone who knows the case) the journey throughout is never less than compelling.