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‘Rillington Place’ is Chilling
October 5, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment
 

Rillington Place marches through the bleak, overcast of post-war London to a conclusion we don’t like and can’t change.

Available beginning Thursday on the streaming service Sundance Now, Rillington Place, based on a true story, is solid, well-produced, well-acted drama. Uplifting, no, that it is not.

Tim Roth (top) stars as John Reginald Christie, a constable with the London police who moonlights as a serial killer.  

This British miniseries, which includes just three hour-long episodes, traces the way he is able to manipulate other people and the system to shift the blame to his upstairs neighbor, unsuspecting Timothy Evans (Nico Mirallegro, left).

The process is chilling to watch, though not as chilling as the outcome.

Roth does a fine job capturing Christie’s low-key, almost nondescript public persona, both in appearance and in action. We only get his cunning and manipulative side, never mind his psychotic killer side, in tiny glimpses.

Nor does his wife Ethel (Samantha Morton, top) see his darkest side, though she certainly sees and ignores multiple signs that he’s hiding more than he’s revealing.

Before the war, he disappeared for nine years. He was just gone. When he returns, informing her in a letter, she’s annoyed but willing to accept his minimal explanation that he was “ashamed” of himself.

In truth, she probably takes “Reg” back because she has no better option. Still, once she’s taken that course, she must also overlook other things, like his temper and his sneaking out at night to see another woman and the way he sometimes comes home looking like he just lost a dustup at the local pub.

She has our sympathy. By remaining silent, she also starts becoming an unwitting enabler.  

The series is framed so each episode focuses on the perspective of one character. That gives us a better idea why they each make the decisions they do, even if in hindsight those decisions don’t always look wise.

Rillington Place very smartly doesn’t allow us to forget the general dreariness of life in working-class Britain for the decade after World War II. The German bombing left much of London in rubble, and the toll of the war mandated rationing well into the 1950s.

The Christie flat is cramped and sparse. The small backyard garden always looks dead. The sun never seems to shine.

The average worker had a hard time simply making ends meet, which is the challenge for Timothy and his wife Beryl (Jodie Comer, right) as they move into the flat above the Christies.

It’s largely their financial struggle as new parents that drives them into Christie’s lethal orbit.

As portraits of Britain go, Rillington Place lies closer to Dickens than to Downton Abbey. Roth’s Christie, however, doesn’t seem to be a specific product of Depression, wartime, and post-War London. He’s just a bad man, and the one person in the best position to read the signals chooses either to ignore them or not to act on them.

Britain, collectively, did learn a lesson from the Christie case, after it was over and the only thing that could be fixed was the future. That’s the first and last positive takeaway from the story in Rillington Place.

 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
Joe
David - You should caution people when you recommend a show like Rillington Place on the streaming service Sundance Now - this service has no closed captioning (hard to believe in 2017, but, sadly true).
Oct 8, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
 
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