Last week’s opening episode of Rillington Place was a stunner: a creepy, horror-like examination of a deceitful, manipulative psychopath who successfully preserved his veneer of quietly-spoken respectability. Tim Roth’s Alan Bennet-on-Tramadol take on John ‘Reg’ Christie was terrifying in its banality; the fact that a man so shuffling, unassuming and insouciant could be so calculating, so manipulative and so dangerous was at the heart of his portrayal and the man’s benevolent charm. Also key to that first episode’s success was Samantha Morton’s superb, nuanced performance as Christie’s doomed wife, Ethel, and the fact that 10, Rillington Place was portrayed as a character all in itself. It was Christie’s dank, airless lair; a dark, monochromatically beige vortex, seemingly cloaked in a mist of constant dread that sucked life out of everything and everyone who entered. Now it was to suck the life out of a young, vibrant couple, who made the mistake of moving into the upstairs flat. Downstairs, Christie was watching. And waiting.
As soon as Tim and Beryl Evans (Nico Mirallegro and Jodie Comer) moved into the upstairs flat, the tone changed slightly. Beryl’s flash of red lipstick added literal colour to surroundings, while the couple’s post-marriage reverie gave number 10 life, noise and vibrancy. They laughed, they flirted, they ran around their new flat with gay glee.
But Christie was having none of it. Like a troll living under a bridge, he emerged, ghost-like at every given opportunity. He appeared in doorways, in corridors. He quietly, through hissing, pursed lips, explained the rules of the house to the carefree couple. He was slowly but surely grinding them down; a metronome of flattened vowels that began to bewitch them. Mr Christie, they called him. Thank you, Mr Christie. Thank you for thinking of us, Mr Christie. Thank you for looking after us, Mr Christie. To any other people, he would be an annoying drudge, a ‘told-you-so’ stickler for rules and regulations. But here, in Rillington Place, we knew that John Christie was beginning to seep into the Evans’ lives like damp and he saw them for what they were – malleable pieces of putty; prey.
It was only a matter of time.
As the tension rose, so did tensions in the Evans’ marriage. Tim went off to the horses, drank and spent all the rent money. Beryl became pregnant again and resorted to dangerous methods in order to self-abort. “I’m a doctor,” Christie said. “I’m worried about your Beryl,” he whispered to an exasperated Tim. “She’s been… spotted,” Christie told him, inferring that Beryl was out and about with other men. “I used to be a doctor,” he lied. “I can help with… I can do it safely, but it does come with some risk. No, I can’t tell you how it’s done because of medical confidentiality. It’d be better if I did it, rather she go to one of those dreadful places. You do trust me, don’t you Tim?”
“You do trust me, don’t you Tim?”
Of course he did. And of course he shouldn’t have, because when Tim came home the next day Beryl was laid on the bed, motionless, her lower body covered in blood. “Where did the blood come from? What heave you done to her?!”
He helped Christie dispose of the body. He gave baby Geraldine to Christie, who told him he would give the babe to a childless couple in Acton. A good couple. Good people.
Of course, he didn’t.
So this episode was about Tim, the unwitting prey to Christie’s twisted bloodlust. Tim Evans had young energy and force – emotional, cheeky, feckless – which put him at odds with Christie’s skulking, flat humanless ghoul-form. This gave the episode a different kind of tension, almost a battle of wills. There was only going to be one winner: Christie got what he wanted (another victim), while stitching up Evans like a kipper.
And once again, Rillington Place proved to be a masterful exercise in suspense and slow-burning, relentless tension. Like Christie, the dread was always there, swirling in the shadows and stairwells, slowly gripping and gripping and gripping. What I really like about Rillington Place is that no violence is shown – everything is suggested and inferred. A glance, a wrinkle of the forehead, a creak of the floorboards… every facial expression or sound is loaded with meaning, proving you don’t have to be gratuitous to keep a viewer intrigued and hooked. This is exactly how a crime drama should be.
For our review of episode one of Rillington Place, go here