Based on the true story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in
Britain, Mike Newell's Dance With a Stranger (1985) concentrates
on Ellis's (Richardson) short-lived relationship with motor-racing driver David
Blakely (Rupert Everett), who she ultimately murders.
However the script's few mentions of her first abusive marriage
help to explain Ellis's despair that "all men are the same". Even mild-mannered
Desmond Cussens (Ian Holm) has demonstrated a vicious streak by the end of the
Several film noir techniques are used to enhance the
film's melancholic bleakness. Characters emerge from shadows, and are often
photographed from unusual angles. The lighting is usually subdued, making
colours appear surreal. Ellis is frequently shown reflected in mirrors and, in
one scene, through the lens of Desmond's camera.
Much is made of Ellis's inability to see - she constantly needs
to put her glasses on, but refuses, out of vanity, to wear them all them around.
Her blindness is a metaphor for her desire, which masks the reality of her
situation. Ellis's son Andy (Matthew Carroll) is given the foresight that
escapes his mother. Rifling through Desmond's flat for his Christmas presents,
Andy finds a gun. During the final moments, we flash back to their seaside trip,
when Andy became preoccupied with digging an enormous hole in the sand. In
context, after the murder of Blakely, the hole resembles a grave.
The Ellis case increased pressure for the abolition of the death
penalty and influenced the 1957 Homicide Act, which introduced the plea of
'diminished responsibility'. Dance With a Stranger makes for interesting
comparison with the Diana Dors-starring Yield to the Night (d. J. Lee
Thompson, 1956), which, despite the denials of the producers, was clearly
inspired by Ellis's story.
Soon after Dance With A Stranger,
Richardson turned down the Glenn Close role in Fatal Attraction (US, d.
Adrian Lyne, 1987), reportedly describing its attitudes towards women as
regressive. Newell's next film, The Good Father (1986), about the
paternal rights of men, drew some comparisons to the 'anti-feminist backlash'
films coming out of the US at the time.