APPROPRIATE ADULT. (2011) BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. WRITTEN BY NEIL MCKAY. DIRECTED BY JULIAN JARROLD.
STARRING EMILY WATSON, DOMINIC WEST, MONICA DOLAN, SYLVESTRA LE TOUZEL AND ROBERT GLENISTER.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘I’m not your friend, Fred.’
‘Can I just ask if the appropriate adult’s all right…?’
‘Heather’s not under the patio. She’s in Bahrain, working as a mule for a drugs cartel. Now, whether you believe that or not is entirely up to you.’
I love this made for television crime drama, first shown in two parts on ITV. It’s considered to be the third part in a trilogy of made for television films about Britain’s most notorious murders from the second half of the twentieth century: THIS IS PERSONAL: THE HUNT FOR THE YORKSHIRE RIPPER from 1999 is one of the best true crime movies I’ve ever seen in my life. SEE NO EVIL: THE MOORS MURDERS (2006) is almost equally good.
APPROPRIATE ADULT is not the story of the horrific abductions, rapes and murders of innocent young women carried out by the loathsome serial killers Fred and Rose West in Gloucestershire between 1967 and 1987, although they did very much commit these crimes with which they were charged and of which they were found guilty. (Fred, of course, committed suicide before he could stand trial, but there was never any doubt as to his guilt.)
Rather, it is the extraordinary story of the ordinary woman training to be a social worker- Emily Watson playing Janet Leach- who had put her name down on a list of volunteers to be the ‘appropriate adult’ for when the police have charged someone of limited mental capacity or with learning difficulties, who might have trouble understanding the charges against them.
The appropriate adult would then sit in on the interview sessions between the police and the person charged with the offences and make sure that the person is okay to go on with the sessions and that they have everything they need, etc. It’s kind of like baby-sitting but with more serious implications…!
Janet Leach, thirty-eight, is a divorced mum-of-five with all the usual worries about money, kids and career. Her current partner is bipolar and needs to be hospitalised when he is going through one of his manic phases. So, as we see, this lady is not without her share of problems even before she encounters one of the twentieth century’s worst ever serial murderers.
This case is Janet Leach’s first time to be chosen as an ‘appropriate adult.’ When she realises that it’s not only a murder case, but a multiple murder case in which heads have been cut off as casually as chopping up a lettuce for a salad and bodies stuffed into suitcases before being buried in the back garden or cellar, you can tell that she’s been knocked for six a bit.
Dominic West (no relation, I’m sure!) does a cracking job of portraying the evil but oddly genial Fred, a labourer for whom no job was too small, too big or too dirty and who liked to present an obliging, pleasantly hail-fellow-well-met face to the world at all times. He gives the impression that there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you if you asked him, he’s so congenial.
Janet is obviously repelled by Fred when she meets him first and hears his dreadful stories of lust murders and the sado-masochistic torture of victims before they were murdered. But Fred takes an immediate liking to his ‘appropriate adult’ and it’s not long before Janet, too, falls under his so-called ‘spell.’
Here’s the thing about Fred, and this is my own personal opinion now. He loves all women, but especially the woman he’s with at any given time. He’d probably love D.C. Hazel Savage, who’s conducting the interviewing, except he’s sneaky and he instinctively knows she’s too smart to fall for his bullshit.
But Janet Leach is a tiny, timid little bird of a thing whose shyness and vulnerability Fred probably sniffs out immediately. Here’s a woman he can manipulate, a woman who’ll believe his lies.
He’s the most complete picture of a pathological liar you’ll ever see; if he told you it was raining, you’d be well advised to stick your own head out the window just to check for yourself.
Janet is probably exactly the kind of easily manipulated little mouse of a woman Fred would have gone for in real life. And now, here she is, in his life every day for a while, hanging on to his every word and giving him her undivided attention, which is all Fred ever wanted from a woman.
How does he manipulate her fragile emotions, then? He tells her she’s special, that she understands him in a way no-one else, not even his precious Rose, does. He implies he can’t do any of this without her, and that there’s a special bond between the pair of them that no-one else, outside of their little protective circle, can possibly ever hope to understand.
Janet is probably immensely flattered. What woman wouldn’t be? Has anyone else ever needed her so thoroughly, she’s probably wondering, has anyone else every placed so much trust in her? God Almighty, she’s probably honoured that she was the chosen one.
When he starts comparing her physical appearance to that of the so-called ‘love of his life,’ poor murdered Anna McFall, she’s more than likely half in love with him already. She starts to help the semi-literate Fred with his ‘autobiography,’ ‘I was Loved by an Angle.’ (Yes, yes, he means to write ‘angel!’)
She continues to visit him in prison, bringing him clothes and offering her support, long after her role as appropriate adult has officially ceased to be a thing. When Fred does what he does over the New Year of 1995, Janet Leach has a very curious reaction which I’m not going to tell you about here for fear of the dreaded spoiler. You’ll have to watch the film yourself to find out…!
I’m not saying that Fred was happy about being caught, but, Lord, he must have been in his element, his absolute element, during those long police interviews with the ever-attentive Janet Leach by his side!
Talking, talking, talking to his heart’s content, always with a captive audience and with a new woman now to ‘woo,’ congratulating himself inwardly on being smarter than the police and sending them on a wild goose-chase or leading them- quite literally- up the garden path as they desperately try to wriggle it out of him where he’s buried his own daughter’s remains. Did he believe his own wild stories? I guess we’ll never know.
A word about Rose, the wife. Here, she’s wonderfully portrayed by Monica Dolan exactly as I imagine she was in real life: a liar, vulgar, loud, aggressive, foul-mouthed, threatening violence, making enemies right left and centre. She won’t be free any time soon, if ever. I would say that’s for the best.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.