10 Rillington Place (1971)

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It has become almost commonplace now to find movies about serial killers as entertaining as they are somewhat chilling, but 10 Rillington Place isn’t the kind of thing that we’re used to nowadays. It stands up as a perfect example of how to show very little, although there are one or two moments of nastiness, and still infuse almost every single frame with a real sense of dread.

Richard Attenborough puts in a flawless performance as the infamous John Christie, a London serial killer who ended up framing an innocent man for one of his crimes, a miscarriage of justice that led (or, at the very least, helped lead) to the end of the death penalty in Great Britain. The people in peril are Beryl and Timothy Evans, played by Judy Geeson and John Hurt, and Mrs. Christie is played by Pat Heywood. With a style that’s almost in line with the “kitchen sink” dramas that Britain became well-known for in the ’70s and ’80s, this works so well because nothing NEEDS sensationalised. Horror mounts and mounts as the events unfold, leading to a truly gut-wrenching third act.

The script by Clive Exton, based on the book by Ludovic Kennedy, is economical and highly effective. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it stands up as a prime example to study if you’re interested in making your own movie in this particular subgenre. There’s a shocking opening scene, but after that it becomes quite an impressive character study, showing how nice and charming John Christie could be while his new tenants have their big flaws revealed to show just how easily they ended up being preyed upon.

I’ve already mentioned Attenborough, but there’s really no reason to stop heaping praise upon his performance, which holds up as one of the best, and most quietly horrifying, portrayals of a serial killer to be put on film. Judy Geeson may be playing a woman with a lot on her plate, but she also lights up the screen with her presence. John Hurt is also wonderful, playing a man who may lie about his station in life and may not know the best way to handle any unexpected problems that life throws at him. He’s not a bad man, but his actions certainly don’t show him in a good light during the first half of the movie. Heywood and Morell are both very good, though neither has too much screentime.

Director Richard Fleischer had covered slightly similiar fare with his superb look at The Boston Strangler, but this is a very different movie, both in terms of style and also impact. Where The Boston Strangler was, as a film, strangely charming and seductive in between the horrors, 10 Rillington Place has no such quality. It has many scenes almost designed to repel the viewer and challenge them to watch through to the very end (if they have the stomach for it). I hope plenty people take up that challenge. 10 Rillington Place is worth it.

10 Rillington Place was shown on Sat 29 June at The Filmhouse as part of a Richard Fleischer retrospective at EIFF 2013

DIRECTOR: RICHARD FLEISCHER
WRITER: CLIVE EXTON, BASED ON THE BOOK BY LUDOVIC KENNEDY
STARS: RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH,  JUDY GEESON, JOHN HURT, ANDRE MORELL, PAT HEYWOOD
RUNTIME: 111 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: UK

Film Rating: ★★★★½

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