Well, the long wait for Rillington Place is over and we can, at last, see the some of the fruits of the BBC’s labours in bringing this compelling story to a whole new audience. Tonight’s episode, the first of three in the series, centres on Ethel Christie and starts from the time of her reconciliation with husband John Reginald ‘Reg’ Halliday Christie after an eleven-year separation. Tim Roth presents a chillingly convincing depiction of the main character whilst the external scenery shots, particularly of the street itself, are also impressively authentic-seeming. The pace is slow – perhaps too slow for some – but understated in an effective way but the quietly delivered dialogue is a little difficult to follow in places.
The opening caption reads: ‘Based on real events’ which is a fair-seeming caveat for a drama although, as the episode unfolds, it becomes clear that the true chronology, from the known historical records of the story, is barely in evidence and there is a good deal of conflation both in terms of characters and events themselves. Many inaccuracies of detail are there to be spotted but these can be left for another day. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the presentation thus far is that which suggests that the relationship between Christie and Ethel was one of hostility, suspicion and abusiveness. This is actually in direct contrast to what is known about the relationship in that Ethel was both loyal and affectionate towards her husband with no known inkling as to his darker side or antecedents beyond petty dishonesty. Thus, the attempted strangling scene is really a rather unwarranted and misleading invention.
The brief glimpse into next week’s episode raises a query in that Timothy Evans was a Welshman with a strong accent to match and so, if he is to be portrayed without such, it would be a regrettable loss to his troubled story. However, that will become clearer next time.