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September 11th, 2011

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01:01 pm - Appropriate Adult
I didn't watch much television while we were away, but I saw one show that I must recommend, because the second episode it tonight. Appropriate Adult is the story of Fred and Rosemary West. For non-brits, these were depraved murderers, who were caught in 1994. This is the first mainstream drama about the case.

The story is told in a restrained and oblique way, with no prurient detail of the victims' suffering, and even so it was almost unbearably chilling and crushing. It unfolds from the point of view of a volunteer social worker who was asked to sit in on the police interviews. She is completely out of her depth, and West confides in her, putting her in a difficult moral dilemma. This is all based on fact, and the interview scenes are taken from transcripts. The acting is extremely good. The social worker is played by Emily Watson and Fred West is played by Dominic West, in a sickeningly accurate performance.

Two aspects of the drama are worth commenting on. One is the success in portraying miserable oppressive horror without resorting to explicit detail of the crimes, which would have been demeaning and cheapening of human suffering. I have rarely seen the balance struck so well. It is important that the evil of the crimes is not diminished, but it is also important that the suffering of innocent women is not paraded before us for titillation. While this was not perfect by any means, it should be taken as a standard for crime drama in the way it handles this difficult subject.

The other aspect which struck me very forcibly was the occasional shocking laughter. I was appalled at myself for laughing a couple of times, and I was glad to read reviews later from other viewers who had also laughed, at the shocking incongruity of the transcript. Again, I think it was exemplary in making you realise that it was funny, but never losing the horror. The horror and the appalled laughter were right next to each other.

Here is the kind of thing I am talking about (this from memory), a policewoman is interviewing Fred West.
Police: So, you are saying that you murdered and dismembered nine or ten women in that house, and buried them in the garden, and your wife never noticed?
West: I did it while she was out shopping.
Police: She must have spent a lot of time shopping.
West: Oh yes, it takes ages to walk to Tesco from our house.

I laughed and then I thought 'what am I doing?'

(4 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 12th, 2011 01:33 am (UTC)
Just out of interest, have you read or come across "She Must Have Known"? It's an interesting argument that Rosemary West might not have known after all. I read it ages ago and found it persuasive, but without really knowing anything much about the other side of the argument.

This sounds like a very interesting show. I'll seek it out.
[User Picture]
Date:September 12th, 2011 07:44 am (UTC)
I haven't read it. The actress who plays Rose West was very good, and made her a thoroughly unpleasant person, but obviously that's just within the structure of this particular drama.

I think the first episode of the two was probably stronger because it was more claustrophobic. The second ep last night dramatised the trial and so the atmosphere became more matter-of-fact.
[User Picture]
Date:September 12th, 2011 10:04 am (UTC)
I only caught a bit of the second episode, but agree that it was very well made!

I thought Dominic West was particularly good at portraying a character with real depth and shades of meaning - really unnerving! In contrast, Emily Watson's character came across as a bit flat, but in fairness that might have been due to not watching the whole thing through...
[User Picture]
Date:September 12th, 2011 03:52 pm (UTC)
In the first episode she was rabbit-in-the-headlights stunned throughout, and this was also how the viewer felt, because the atmosphere was so ghastly. In the second episode she seemed dulled into a semi-comatose state by the emotional violence that had been done to her (and then having a stroke, of course, which surely was a reaction to the stress). I must say, I think it was irresponsible of the police to use a newly qualified inexperienced volunteer for this task.

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