The Christie Case
Based on one of Britain’s most sensational serial murder cases, the detailed and disquieting thriller 10 Rillington Place (1971) had its London world premiere 45 years ago today. The chilling chronicle of soft-spoken, unassuming John Christie (1899-1953), who lived at the ramshackle address of the title, depicts with unnerving precision his succession of brutal killings of women (finally including his wife) and one child over an eight-year period. It occasioned some of the best screen work of two esteemed Richards: the formidable Richard Attenborough in the role of Christie, as coolly calculating and understated here as he was flashy and hard-edged as gangster Pinkie Brown 24 years earlier in Brighton Rock (1947), and American director Richard Fleischer, whose sure hand with criminal content resulted in hard-hitting films like Armored Car Robbery (1950), The Narrow Margin (1952), Violent Saturday (1955, a Twilight Time release) and The Boston Strangler (1968). Based on an exhaustively researched book by Ludovic Kennedy and tautly adapted by Clive Exton (Night Must Fall, Isadora, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Rosemary & Thyme), the film dramatized events (spanning 1944 to 1953) that still cast a pall over England at the time it was made, since one of its key components was the wrongful conviction and execution of fellow tenant Timothy Evans (John Hurt) for the murders of his wife Beryl (Judy Geeson) and their infant daughter Geraldine, both actually committed by Christie, whose suspect criminal history of theft and assault was not properly weighed when he testified against Evans at trial. Due to the case’s outcome with regard to Evans, Attenborough told The London Times at the time of shooting: "I do not like playing the part, but I accepted it at once without seeing the script. I have never felt so totally involved in any part as this. It is a most devastating statement on capital punishment.” The actor-director gave his all to the role. "Much of its power comes from Attenborough's marvelously controlled performance as Christie – despite playing one of the most monstrous people imaginable, he plays him in a perfectly genial and neighborly manner and this, of course, only makes the performance all the more blood-curdling as a result. If one were to make a list of the all-time screen psychopaths, Attenborough's work as Christie deserves to be put right up there with Anthony Perkins in Psycho and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs," RogerEbert.com columnist Peter Sobczynski wrote at the time of Attenborough's 2014 death. TT’s hi-def Blu-ray of this spellbinding procedural captures the voices of two of its key actors: one solo Audio Commentary by Hurt and another group Audio Commentary with Geeson and resident TT experts Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman. In the view of Eye on Film’s Jennie Kermode, 10 Rillington Place “delivers one of the most genuinely chilling entries in the serial killer canon.” Visit it starting March 15. Preorders open March 2.