By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: He enjoys strangling women.
This film depicts the true life account of John Christie, played here by Sir Richard Attenborough, who strangled eight women, had sex with their corpses and then hide their bodies in his London flat at 10 Rillington Place. The story begins with Christie having already murdered several women when Timothy and his wife Beryl (John Hurt, Judy Geeson) arrive looking for a place to stay and decide to rent a room from Christie who immediately takes a fancy to Beryl. When she confides in him that she is pregnant and looking for an abortion he uses it to his advantage by pretending to be a former Dr. who can secretly perform the procedure. He then strangles her after giving her some anesthesia and tells Timothy that it occurred during the abortion and threatens him not to go to the police since it was an illegal operation at the time and Timothy was aware that she wanted it done, which would have made him an accessory. However, after moving out his suspicions continue to nag him and he eventually goes to the police, which culminate in a dramatic trial with both men accusing the other of being a liar.
The film comes off as being quite authentic to the actual events with the dialogue taken straight off of the court transcripts. The exteriors were filmed at the actual flat were the murders occurred while the interiors scenes where shot at an apartment house that was just three doors down from Christie’s real life one. Richard Fleischer’s direction is low-key with emphasis put on keeping things real almost like a documentary instead of trying to sensationalize it. The music is used sparingly and has a certain quite tone of loneliness and detachment to it almost like it is representing the feelings and mood from Christie himself.
Attenborough and Hurt give strong performances and the diametrically divergent personalities of the two characters are what drive the film. Attenborough accepted the role without even having read the script. He wore a skin-like skull cap for the part, which gives him a very pronounced bald head and a creepy alien-like quality. I also really liked the scene where he looks at himself in the mirror just before he commits the murder with his eyes conveying a frightened and ashamed look like even he himself is horrified at the murderous out-of-control obsession that drives him. Geeson does well as the sympathetic victim and Pat Heywood is memorable in an understated role as Christie’s wife Ethel who initially believes her husband to be innocent, but then slowly becomes aware of what a monster he really is.
The film would have been stronger and a more multi-faceted had it shown even in brief flashback more of Christie’s background including the fact that he was dominated by his mother and older sisters and raised by a father who showed no emotion for him as well his lifelong struggles with impotence, which all could’ve helped explain why he became the way he did. It also might have allowed for more tension had the story started with the court case and leaving it a mystery to the viewer at the beginning as to which of the men was telling the truth instead of having the narrative done in a very matter-of-fact, by-the-numbers way. In either case the film is still quite strong and great example of how a true-life crime story should be done.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: February 10, 1971
Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes
Director: Richard Fleischer
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video