Rillington Place is currently being shown on the BBC with Tim Roth and Samantha Morton, I haven’t seen it yet so can’t vouch for its quality. Completely unrelated to that airing Powerhouse Films has released the classic 1971 version of the same story 10 Rillington Place in a UK Blu-Ray debut. It stars two of the finest British actors of all-time John Hurt and Richard Attenborough, it was an early role for the young John Hurt and was nominated for the BAFTA for supporting actor for his performance.
The film was directed by the underrated work man like American director Richard Fleischer who had worked in every genre since he began making films in the ’40s. 10 Rillington Place was a return to form after a string of critical and box-office disappointments. I would assume after making the huge scaled Tora! Tora! Tora!, doing a smaller contained film which is mostly set in a London house or courtroom was appealing.
10 Rillington Place is in a small group of great British serial killer films, only Peeping Tom and Hitchcock’s Frenzy which came out the year after gives it a run for its money. It’s based on the true story of John Christie (Richard Attenborough) who committed a series of murders at the title address where his lived with wife who wasn’t aware of her husband’s activities. The film actually shot a chunk at the real address which gives it’s more authenticity than your standard “based on a true story” film. Christie may have committed more murders before WW2 but it remains only speculation but it’s very possible.
John Hurt plays the illiterate lodger Timothy John Evans who rents Christie’s spare flat with his wife Beryl Evans (Judy Geeson) and newly born daughter. Evans would eventually be found guilty of murder of his daughter (but not his wife) would be hung but in reality Christie did it. It was one of the first big true crime stories in Britain and the revelation Christie was indeed a serial killer made it even more sensational. It wasn’t till the mid ’60s Evans’ name would be finally cleared and this was even after Christie was found guilty of other murders.
Fleischer enlisted the British cinematographer Denys N. Coop to shoot the film. Coop had shot a bunch of the “Kitchen Sink” dramas of the early ’60s such as This Sporting Life and Billy Liar. He also was the camera operator on a lot of the great Carol Reed films and this background in realism and stylised noir is a perfect match for the material. The fact it was shot at the real location which looks so dingy and lived in makes the aesthetic even more creepy and just the colour of the wallpaper reaks of something lurking beneath the dirty surfaces.
Attenborough’s performance is one for the ages from the first moment you see him you just know this guy is a total creep, the fact he is murdering somebody in the first scene doesn’t hurt. Just the way he smiles, the shaven head and the spectacles is what you would see if looked up paedophile in the dictionary. It was totally against type, he may have played the amoral gangster Pinky in Brighton Rock but this another level of depravity. He was robbed during awards season but maybe the voters were just too terrified of him.
10 Rillington Place remains a powerful indictment on capital punishment and the miscarriage of justice that occurred. Capital punishment was only recently outlawed in the UK at the time. It also have enough genre thrills to satisfy genre fans of true crime thrillers and maybe even horror fans who are a picky bunch. Attenborough and Hurt give career highlight performances and Attenborough’s may be his career best. It’s one of Richard Fleischer’s best as well and probably saved a career which was in a rut, he would make the excellent noir/sci-fi Soylent Green soon after.
Powerhouse Films’ release includes a new commentary with Judy Geeson and film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman. John Hurt recorded a commentary track back when it came out on DVD and is included here as well. The interview and intro from Attenborough come from the previous DVD release as well. Judy Geeson appears again in a newly filmed interview with her. The package is rounded off with the trailer, an image gallery and a booklet with a new essay by Thirza Wakefield and archival reprints.