Friday, February 16, 2018

10 Rillington Place

Over the weekend, I got around to watching 10 Rillington Place off my DVR, which I had recorded as part of a night of true crime stories on TCM. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Sony/Columbia MOD scheme, so I'm OK doing a full-length post on it.

We know right away that this is true crime, based on a title card that precedes any action: "This is a true story. Wherever possible the dialogue has been based on official documents." We hear this over an air-raid siren, and cut to London during the 1944 blitz. Muriel Eady comes to 10 Rillington Place, the home of John Reginald Christie (Richard Attenborough), looking for some help with her bronchitis. She doesn't realize that Christie is about to kill her! With that, we know right away that Christie is a murderer, so it's not as if we're giving anything away here.

Fast forward to 1949. A young couple with a baby, Timothy and Beryl Evans (John Hurt and Judy Geeson respectively) come to 10 Rillington Place because there are a couple of rooms to let, and they need rooms cheaply. Timothy is an illiterate and relatively dim type who drives a truck but as things stand is probably never going to be able to make much more of himself in life. There are money problems and arguments with the wife, but things are about to get a whole lot worse.

During one of the arguments, Beryl tells Timothy that she's going to have another baby. The only thing is, there's no way the two of them can afford a second child. Beryl would be willing to have an abortion, except that this being the 1940s, it was still highly illegal. Christie, however, suggests that he had some medical training during the war, and that he would be able to perform an abortion, although it's not without its risks.

Of course, Christie uses this as an opportunity to kill Beryl, too, giving him a perfect excuse that the death happened during the botched abortion, which of course it didn't. But Timothy doesn't know that, and with his illiteracy and generally not being very bright, it's easy for the manipulative Christie to convince Timothy that he would be in serious hot water if word of the abortion ever came out. They'll bury Beryl's body surreptitiously, and Christie will give the baby to foster parents to look after while Timothy goes away for a while.

To cut a long story short, Timothy has pangs of guilt and decides to report Beryl's death to the authorities and where Christie said he was going to bury Beryl. The only thing is, Beryl's body isn't there. When they do find Beryl's body, they also find the baby's body, and the cops naturally put suspicion on Timothy, wheedling a confession out of him. The fact that Christie had long been known to the police is a shocking oversight, but it really did happen that way. Timothy goes on trial, is convicted, and hanged. It's still not over for Christie, however....

I can highly recommend 10 Rillington Place. It's much more effective an anti-execution movie than something like I Want to Live! in part because it's not beating you over the head with it. Attenborough and Hurt both give excellent performances. Hurt looks hollow-eyed as he has no clue what's happening to him; apparently the real-life Tim Evans couldn't put two and two together and come up with a motive for why Christie would kill the baby. Attenborough, for his part, is chillingly manipulative. The banality of evil and all that.

The filmmakers tried to use original locations as much as possible, which gives the movie a suitably cramped and downmarket look. It's also a bit of a time capsule in that Rillington Place underwent urban renewal not long after the movie was made, and Rillington Place no longer exists, being in the now-fashionable Notting Hill district.

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