‘10 Rillington Place’ is a horrible film, as it should be: it deals with horrible things. Grimly documenting the squalid murders of John Reginald Christie, it achieves an almost documentary quality. It isn’t easy to watch, although it’s harder to turn away.
Richard Attenborough plays Christie as a whispering, wheedling, pathetic non-person who is only defined by his willingness to cause pain, to take life. I’m not a huge fan of Sir Dickie, but his performance here is extraordinary, not least because it is so enormously unsympathetic. There is nothing remotely likeable or even pitiable about Christie, and his murders, fuelled by rage and sexual aberration, are unforgiveable, especially as they led to the execution of an innocent man, Timothy Evans, played with heart-breaking incomprehension by John Hurt.
Whenever I think of Christie, I feel as if I want to wash my hands, and the film perfectly evokes the sleazy horror of his life and crimes, from the degraded, slum like conditions in which his crimes were perpetrated*, the mean, desperate lives of his victims and their awful post-mortem fate, shoved under floorboards and into cupboards to moulder away – and all of it conducted in the shadow of the noose – the eye for an eye which demeans any society that sanctions it.
I haven’t always been anti-death penalty, by the way. When I was younger it seemed a perfectly sensible solution to the problem. Then I saw this film.
*The film was made on location, but at number 7 as the tenants of 10 didn’t want to move out. In a way, I’m relieved – the film is macabre enough as it is. The whole street was demolished soon afterwards.