John Reginald Christie was one of the worlds most notorious serial killers, who was largely active between 1943 and 1953. During the course of that decade, Christie had murdered eight women and disposed of their remains in his tenement in Rillington Place, situated in the Notting Hill district of London.
The most famous of these murders was that of twenty year old, Beryl Evans, who along with her husband, Timothy Evans had just moved into their Rillington Place residence with their thirteen month old baby daughter, Geraldine, a year prior to her killing. After months of searching for somewhere to live, Rillington place was the only flat that boasted affordability, something that was perfect for a young poverty-stricken couple to call home, but at the time of relocating, Timothy and Beryl had no idea what nightmare would await them.
Not long after moving into Rillington Place, Beryl discovered that she was pregnant for the second time. Due to insufficient funds and unable to care for the baby properly, Beryl decided that getting an abortion would be the best option, but instead of paying for a specialized doctor to perform the procedure, she trusted John Christie, who convinced her that he acquires medical qualifications, and is able to terminate the pregnancy free of charge. Christie who had no medical background at all only had a motive to murder. After using carbon monoxide gas in which Beryl had a violent reaction to, he strangled and then sexually assaulted her.
In October 1948, Timothy Evans told the police that his wife was dead, and ordered them to search the area for her remains, but when they failed to find the bodies of his wife and Geraldine, Evans then announced that Christie was responsible for the deaths of Beryl and his daughter. It was only while he was under police questioning that he admitted to committing the murders himself, though after being charged, Evans went back to his original statement and accused Christie of the murders.
In the years that proceeded Timothy Evans execution, John Reginald Christie was found guilty of the murders of the eight women, including Beryl and her daughter, Geraldine, but when it was revealed that Evans was wrongfully executed, his body was exhumed from Pentonville Prison and reburied in consecrated ground at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Leytonstone.
The crime that surrounded Rillington Place, and the unearthing of John Reginald Christie has become one of the most talked about murder cases in history. It is due to the miscarriage of justice regarding Timothy Evans that the abolition of the death penalty took place in the United Kingdom in 1965.
Five years after the elimination of the death penalty had been reinforced in England, the story of John Reginald Christie was brought to life on screen in 1971, when Richard Attenborough chillingly portrayed Christie for the film version of 10 Rillington Place, a Richard Fleischer directed production that was adapted from a book by Ludovic Kennedy.
In the film version of 10 Rillington Place, Richard Fleischer takes viewers on a journey to the seedy district of London in 1949, and provides audiences with a true depiction of John Reginald Christie while focusing on the chronicle of events that took place before and after Beryl Evans ( Judy Geeson ) is murdered.
Once Beryl is murdered, the film makes a point of addressing the critical situation that Timothy Evens ( John Hurt ) endured while he was trying to fight for his innocence regarding a crime that John Christie had him framed for, but instead of succeeding, Evans was one of those unfortunate victims to be unjustly accused and put to death by capital punishment for murdering Beryl and his baby daughter, Geraldine, a crime that he would never dream of committing.
“You know the big manhole cover, by the front door, I’ll lay her to rest there.”
During the years, many people have asked why Timothy Evans fell into the trap so easily. In real life, Timothy Evans suffered from intellectual disabilities that affected his capacity of intelligence. He was unable to read or write, and he lacked the skills and knowledge that most people in his age group possessed. In truth, Evans was a person who embodied human failure. As what is elucidated so prominently in the movie, Evans was very naive, and wasn’t able to fully comprehend the dangers of leaving Geraldine with John Christie while he eluded his current tribulations in Rillington Place to go and hide out with his aunty and uncle in Merthyr Vale. Like his wife Beryl, and every other woman who Christie had lured into his apartment, Evans trusted this hideous and despicable maniac who put on a false facade for everyone, including his victims until he displayed what was lurking in his interior by murdering them. It just makes you wonder how Christie repeatedly broke the law by managing to have his repellent nature and grotesque crimes undetected for years.
“You know about it, that’s the point, you’re an accessory before the act.”
The idea of adapting the real life murder case of the British serial killer, John Christie into a movie first came to the fore in the early 1960’s, when the renowned English screenwriter, Clive Exton began writing the screenplay and working on character development for the proposed production. By the mid 1960’s, the entire script and most of the narration was completed.
For a film that entailed an inconsiderable amount of difficulties during the preparation stages, the actual shooting process involved a myriad of complications which were fueled by adversities that were caused by residents in the neighborhood. The main problem occurred when it came to filming the scenes in Rillington Place, which was renamed Ruston Close in 1954. When the three families living in number ten were approached about lending their tenement to the cast and crew for the picture, they refused to move out, which meant that filming would have to be moved to number seven, an empty apartment up the road. The intricacies in filming alleviated however when the production company moved to Wales to shoot the scenes that were shot in Timothy’s hometown, Merthyr Vale, and the local railway station.
In the years following the films release, Rillington Place was demolished, and has now been taken over by the housing community of Bartle Road. However the street still commonly attracts tourists, who continually drive past trying to locate the whereabouts of Christie’s former residence, but what you’ll see now isn’t even a mirroring resemblance to how it used to look. The area has changed beyond all recognition.
John Hurt, who first rose to stardom in the 1966 film, A Man For All Seasons, commendably portrayed Timothy Evans to such a believable and realistic extent, that would later garner him a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor, but while Hurt’s performance has continued to procure a multitude of accolades, it has in someway been eclipsed by Richard Attenborough’s portrayal of the cold and deceiving John Reginald Christie.
At first Richard Attenborough was reluctant to accept the role. He viewed Christie as a brutal killer who showed no remorse or respect for society. Eventually however, Attenborough agreed to take on the challenge. He later spoke of his objections when he stated, “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.”
On it’s release, the film opened to mix reviews. Variety wrote: “Richard Fleischer has turned out an authenticated documentary-feature which is an absorbing and disturbing picture. But the film has the serious flaw of not even attempting to probe the reasons that turned a man into a monstrous pervert.” Praise went to John Hurt for his “remarkably subtle and fascinating performance as the bewildered young man who plays into the hands of both the murderer and the police.”, while The New York Times stated that 10 Rillington Place is “a solemn, earnest polemic of a movie, one with very little vulgar suspense … The problem with the film is very much the problem with the actual case, which involved small, unimaginative people.”
As the years progressed, audiences and critics alike have displayed a more positive perspective on the film, and by 2009, 10 Rillington Place had so rightfully reached the prestige eminence that it should have attained on it’s initial release. That same year, J. Hoberman of the Village Voice wrote, “More highly regarded these days than when it was released in 1971, Richard Fleischer’s 10 Rillington Place is a grimly efficient treatment of a once-notorious case”. Time Out also awarded the film with a five star review, and described it as an “underseen gem”.
These latter day reviews truly describe 10 Rillington Place. For a film that made an exemplary point of highlighting the evil and emphasizing the innocent, it’s a shame that it weren’t greatly acknowledged back in 1971.
According to the commentary by John Hurt on the DVD, real-life retired executionerAlbert Pierrepoint was a technical advisor for the execution scene. This scene was the first British people had seen in a cinema of a British hanging, and as it was still covered under the government’s Official Secrets Act, no details regarding the scene were available. This is where Pierrepoint came in, under an assumed name, and was able to re-create the harrowing scene to maximize the true terror of what it must have been like.
Bernard Lee originally appeared as “Inspector J” (based on the real-life Chief Inspector Jennings) though his scenes were cut from the finished movie.
Richard Attenborough‘s make-up, mainly consisting of a bald pate, took three hours to apply every morning.
Richard Attenborough: Born, Richard Samuel Attenborough on August 29th, 1923 in Cambridge, England. Died: August 24th, 2014 in London, England. Aged 90.
John Hurt: Born, John Vincent Hurt on January 22nd, 1940 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England. Aged 76.
Judy Geeson: Born, Judith Amanda Geeson on September 10th, 1948 in Arundel, Sussex, England. Aged 67.
This post was my contribution to the ‘Order In The Court Blogathon‘, which is being hosted by, Second Sight Cinema and Cinemaven’s Essays From The Couch. Click here to view the other entries being exhibited during this event.