During two episodes of Rillington Place, Tim Roth’s whispering, hunched portrayal of serial killer John ‘Reg’ Christie had been nothing short of sensational. Add to that an exemplary performance by Samantha Morton as his wife, Ethel, and an incredibly creepy location, which has been a character all in itself, and Rillington Place has been an edge-of-your-seat experience that has balanced tension and suspense not only beautifully but highly effectively. Now it was time for the finale – we knew that Reg was to be eventually found out, but we needed to know how and when. We needed to know.
The opening montages in series have really impressed me. Little things, yes, but they’ve been really effective. They’ve been scene setters, but have also served to show us what happens at the end of the story, which is a bold move. I’ve been discussing this approach in things like Modus and Y Gwyll elsewhere, but here in Rillington Place these little sequences are so beautifully edited and establish what we’re going to see straight off the bat. There’s already tension in the air, and we know our destination. What is it they say? It’s the journey, not the finish line that counts.
In tonight’s opening sequence, a man is redecorating Reg’s living room, with The Ink Spots’ Whispering Grass echoing around number 10 like a ghost (why tell them all your secrets?; who kissed there long ago; whispering grass, the trees don’t need to know). He stumbles across a strange kink in the wallpaper, and, gingerly pulling it to one side, he uncovers a secret little cupboard, inside which is the naked body of a woman.
Reg Christie has murdered again.
Three years earlier, Reg has to testify in court against Timothy Evans. Once again, his softly-spoken whisper gives him a kindly, unthreatening feel. It was enough for the jury – who had heard about Reg’s national service, Evans’ shambling, emotional testimony and even brushed aside Christie’s past conviction for violence against women – to convict Evans. The young man, tears streaking down his cheeks, joined his wife and his baby daughter, Geraldine, in the grave.
All eyes turned to Ethel during these scenes, who was given opportunities to get herself out of the mess and away from her nefarious, manipulative husband. But once again she chose not to. She chose to lie in court on his behalf during the Evans trial, and she had the chance to walk away from him when he refused to move into some new builds back up in Halifax. Choices yes, but Ethel wasn’t to blame, of course – Christie was a master manipulator here; a whispering devil who feathered criticism, passive-aggressive threats and platitudes relentlessly wearing her down and twisting reality. It was psychological abuse of the most skilled and awful order.
With these missed opportunities preying on her mind, Ethel became edgy and anxious, prone to tears with nerves pinging like cheese wire. And that’s when Rillington Place changed. Up until then, we hadn’t seen any of Christie in the act – his murders had always been by inference and were unseen. In many ways, this is what made them (and him) more sinister. But now, as he leapt on top of Ethel while dressed in pyjamas, we saw how he took his victims: he wrapped a cord around their necks and used brute force to squeeze the life out of them. He did so to Ethel, with a terrifying mixture of passivity and teeth-gritting power. It was awful to watch. I’m in two minds whether it was gratuitous or not, but the fact that we saw Christie’s violence laid bare propelled him into true monster territory. There was no doubting he was a disgusting human, but now we saw first-hand the lust and power and rage that coursed through those seemingly inoffensive veins.
He placed Ethel beneath the floorboards.
He killed two more young women in ever more terrifyingly graphic ways. He lured them back to number 10 on a promise of an abortion. We saw strange contraptions that gassed the women, and then pipes and bubbling liquid in Mason jars. We saw it all. We saw the chord around the necks, the force in which he tightened them, and we saw the struggles and last gasps for breath. We weren’t being shielded anymore. We knew what he was.
In the end, John Reginald Christie was caught as serenely as he lived his life. He had packed up and left number 10 to wander the streets, shuffling along, hunched and blending into the grey city. He left his dog tied to a park bench (at one point I was screaming at the TV: NOT THE DOG CHRISTIE!). It was almost as if he knew his time was up. He didn’t try to escape or flee – he just shambled around. In the meantime, the new tenant had found the cupboard, and the police had, subsequently, found the bodies. The flat must have stunk.
That flat. It consumed everything: happiness, energy and hope. It sucked it all from whoever entered. Rotting flesh and bone had melded with wood and brick and fabric to become one semi-organic being. It was a place of death; a place made from death.
I’m certainly going to forget the guts of 10, Rillington Place for a long time. And that’s exactly what good dramas and stories should do – they should stay with you and make you think.
If there was a slight criticism of this final episode, things felt a tiny bit rushed and at odds with the considered pace of the first two episodes, but there was just so much to like (when I say like, I mean terrified by) in Rillington Place: it was beautifully shot and edited, it featured brilliant set design, two award-winning performances from Roth and Morton were at its heart, and of course, there was a powerful, well-constructed story that still rumbles on today that demanded to be told. Timothy Evans, while receiving a Royal pardon in 1966, has still not had his conviction quashed.
For our episode one review, go here
For our episode two review, go here