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10 Rillington Place (1970)

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Main image of 10 Rillington Place (1970)
35mm, colour, 111 mins
DirectorRichard Fleischer
Production Companies Columbia Pictures, Filmways Ltd.
ProducersLeslie Linder
 Martin Ransohoff
ScreenplayClive Exton
Source bookLudovic Kennedy
PhotographyDenys Coop
MusicJohn Dankworth

Cast: Richard Attenborough (John Reginald Christie); Judy Geeson (Beryl Evans); John Hurt (Timothy John Evans); Pat Heywood (Mrs Ethel Christie); Isobel Black (Alice); Phyllis MacMahon (Muriel Eady)

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A reconstruction of the John Reginald Christie murders, for which the wrong man was initially tried and hanged.

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One of the most notorious addresses in London, the now-demolished 10 Rillington Place was not only the home of one of Britain's worst serial killers but also the site of the murder that triggered one of the gravest miscarriages of justice in British legal history. Richard Fleischer's film offers a sober, unsensationalised account of what were then very recent events.

Richard Attenborough initially expressed misgivings about playing the lead role, but as he was also ardently opposed to capital punishment (abolished just five years earlier), he ended up giving one of his best performances as John Reginald Christie. Since virtually everyone would have been aware of Christie's reputation when the film opened (his name had already joined Jack the Ripper and Dr Crippen in popular folklore), Fleischer doesn't bother keeping the viewer in suspense: he opens with a graphic murder committed during the war years, with Christie's special constable's uniform adding a particularly sick touch to the proceedings.

Most of the film concentrates on the story of Timothy and Beryl Evans and how they became fatally involved with Christie when they moved into the top flat at 10 Rillington Place. Accidentally pregnant, unable to afford another child, and at a time when abortion was illegal (the film was released three years after the 1967 Abortion Act), Beryl is only too happy to accept Christie's offer of assistance. Her simple-minded, illiterate fantasist of a husband is blamed for the subsequent murder of both Beryl and their baby daughter, found guilty and duly hanged. Sensibly, John Hurt doesn't play the victim card: his Evans is not an especially sympathetic figure, and there are plenty of witnesses to furious marital rows, circumstantial evidence that sealed his doom.

It's a grim, clammy film, riddled with tiny but telling details about postwar life on a tight budget: the chamber pot emptied into the outside lavatory, the chair so threadbare that it can hardly bear human weight, the large wooden radio as the focus of the evening's entertainment. Christie's drab normality (Attenborough's voice is just one notch above a whisper) makes him particularly chilling. He seems outwardly happy with his wife, though there's a clear sexual motive to his killings that suggests they leave some matters undiscussed by mutual consent. Similarly, Fleischer and his writers don't overstate their central anti-hanging message - but then again, they hardly need to.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. One out of ten (1:00)
2. The verdict (0:59)
Production stills
Attenborough, Lord Richard (1923-)
Hardy, Robert (1925-)
Hurt, John (1940-)
Kennedy, Sir Ludovic (1919-2009)
Morell, André (1909-1978)
Walker, Rudolph (1939-)