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Based on the true story of the Acid Bath Murderer, John George Haigh, this
TV drama stars Martin Clunes as the odd-looking, charming serial
Normally I don't go in for TV dramas, but since this I have a passing interest in serial killers, I watched it -- I found it well scripted and well acted, with Clunes doing a good job -- at times he did bear a resemblance to the real Haigh (from old photographs I've see), and he brought a certain charm to his character, making his deceits all the more realistic, whilst his narrative voice contrasted this with a certain lack of emotion or inflection. Also, nicely paced.
Martin Clunes has an amazing range as an actor; he has attempted
everything from Mr Chipps in "Goodbye Mr Chipps" to Garry the Slob in
"Men Behaving Badly". In this TV film scripted by Glenn Chandler,
creator of "Taggart", he impersonates a dapper, cheerful, sport car
driving type who is also an accomplished pianist called John Haigh who
turns out to be a diabolical serial killer who disposes of his victims
in acid baths.
. It is a nice performance and the production values are splendid seldom has England in the 1940s been better evoked, but there is something missing. What happened is clearly conveyed. How it was done is depicted as graphically as most audiences could reasonably take. But, the question of "why" is left hanging, as it were. Was it for the money? Did Haigh, like Dr Shipman, just get a kick out of killing? Or, despite the opinion of the dozen or so experts the prosecutors and the Home Office consulted, was Haigh crazy? At the trial, not shown in this film, Haigh, represented by top-flight counsel paid for by "The News of the World", pleaded insanity. Only one psychiatrist gave evidence for the defence, to such little effect that the prosecutor didn't bother to cross-examine him.
Well, it's not the film-makers' fault that Haigh was one of those bland serial killers who defy understanding. In line with his own account, Haigh's Yorkshire Plymouth Brethren parents are depicted as strict and narrow, but not as unloving. He turned to crime at an early age and had quite a record of petty dishonesty offences. For him, prison was Crime University and he hatched the idea for his body disposal method, the acid bath, while inside. He was capable of conducting an emotional relationship with the youthful "Gillian" (Keely Hawes) while luring his victims to their deaths.
For what it's worth I think Haigh's train of thought went something like this: "I am an outsider, society does not value my true worth, I will be good to people who do really appreciate me (like my parents and Gillian), and the rest are fair game." At least it makes more sense than the vampire theory. Haigh is also one of those criminals who were bound to be caught sooner or later (his arrest was not a miracle of detection), which makes one ask: did he think he was invincible or did he really want to be caught? The film doesn't help us with this, but it's a good reconstruction and a fine piece of acting by Martin Clunes.
A highly entertaining telling of a real life drama about a glamourous British serial killer. Not the most likely subject to tempt an audience but the production was put together with great attention to detail, perfectly capturing Britain in the 1940's, the props, clothes, cars and atmosphere all seeming perfectly genuine. Martin Clunes was superb as Haigh and the supporting cast all played their parts wonderfully well too. A rather unusual subject portrayed with a balanced perspective and having read accounts of the events surrounding Haigh I thought it was a great visualisation of the words I had read. Very interesting indeed.
The film traces the life and deeds of a true life serial killer, John
Haig AKA the Acid Bath Murderer. Whilst in jail for fraud in the thirties
accidentally discovers the effect that acid has on animal bodies. He
subsequently "offs" a series of people including a couple a family and
strangers by inviting them to his "workshop". He dissolves the bodies in
drums full of acid. The film cuts to flashbacks of his upbringing by
zealously religious parents, but steers clear of obviously blaming the
parents for the son's murderous behaviour.
The film has a similar attention to detail as "10 Rillington Place" and Martin Clunes is excellently creepy as the charming Mr Haig. The contrast is small between Haig's day-to-day behaviour and the actual murders and disposals of the body but fascinating, leading to comparisons with Richard Attenborough's portrayal of Christie in 10 Rillington Place, but this film is more darkly humorous.
The film is written by Taggart creator Glenn Chandler and directed by Harry Bradbeer who directed most of the excellent BBC series "The Cops".
This TV movie was a superb historical drama about a true life murderer in England during and after the Second World War. Martin Clunes portrays the serial killer in a sincere but occasionally humourous way. The film shows how the killer gradually loses control and how he eventually is caught where he thought he couldn't based on an old law where a person could not be convicted of a murder if no body is found. I really found it enjoying and the acting of Clunes and his co-stars gave a true feeling of the times and the addition of a character being played by a person who actually met the real killer whilst she was child in London at the time make this film a very enjoyable treat
I have just seen a repeat of this TV film and was very impressed. I had
the opportunity of doing some gardening work for the Sgt Inspector
Heslin (Ret'd) before he died, when he lived in Torbay. As one of the
detectives who interviews Haigh and discovered his gun, he showed me
photographs which very much resembled the film set of Haigh's
I also specialized someone in the RAF when, as a medic, I saw just what Sulphuric acid can do. Now I am a prolific author and wish I had taken more notes about this case. Heslin and I enjoyed good conversation and he was very proud to have been one of the main detectives to interview Haigh.
I saw this TV-made film for the first time last night. I know "sociopath" and "psychopath" are labels and that everyone is an individual and no label, even attached to a mass-murderer such as Haigh could really explain his actions which can only be described as destructive and evil. Martin Clunes was clearly relishing the role and I have to say, I found him completely convincing in it. Whilst the adaptation does suggest the strict religious sect his parents adhered to was a strong influence in his development into a psychopathic murderer, I think this film interpretation of his character indicated he had a sense of entitlement to taking what he wanted in life and he had no boundaries, no conscience, saw no reason why he could not do what he wanted to do to get it all. He would appear to be one of those people who believes their own lies to the extent they can successfully convince many others. I think the reason he committed the murders was because he could and he seems to have committed them for personal gain. He had none of the normal moral and ethical boundaries in place to prevent him. He was unable to understand or foresee the consequences of his actions. Since the explanation he was influenced by his religious background came from Haigh himself, who was a practised and pathological liar, I leave it to the experts to determine whether such people as Haigh are the products of nature or nurture or a tragic combination of many contributing influences.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Martin Clunes is really quite excellent as John George Haigh, the
notorious "acid bath murderer", a post-WWII serial killer in London who
dissolved those he offed (for money) in barrels full of sulphuric acid,
pouring the resulting gloop down the drain! TAGGART creator Chandler's
fine script is done justice by Bradbeer, who uses the TV movie look to
good effect, capturing the musty, dusty world in which this
ghoulishness took place. Fine period detail too, one minor anachronism
being NOSFERATU at the theatre (it was not re-issued in the 40's as far
as i know). With Keeley Hawes, Richard Hope and Celia Imrie. It was the
middle entry in a true-crime trilogy penned by Chandler, following THE
LIFE AND CRIMES OF WILLIAM PALMER, and followed by THE BRIDES IN THE
movie reviews @ spinegrinderweb.com
An affable psychopath in post-war Britain suckers in his down-at-heel
acquaintances to liquidate them in acid and release ready funds. Will
he be caught?
Lovely Poirot-style production, with oodles of acting quality. No great psychological insight, but at least the moral brigade is kept at bay and the natural horror seeps through the period atmosphere.
It refuses to creepify in the acid bath scenes - the last victim might have breathed in then gurgled out a great bubble of blood, but no - so a gentle horror, which was fine by me. I still took pleasure in the pace and performances, the setting and sound.
Overall, nicely judged and a good surprise.
Martin Clunes plays with relish the real life Acid Bath murderer, John
George Haigh in made for television film.
Haigh was a fraudster who came from a strict religious upbringing. He turned to murder supposedly on the premise that if they cannot find a body you cannot be charged for murder. Something he was wrong about.
Presumably his motive was money because as an inventor and gamble he was not much cop. He did well with fast cars, women and being charming. He was also handy with an acid bath where he would dump the murdered corpses which in time would dissolve.
The film looks very nice but its ultimately shallow like a lot of ITV drama films that rely on its star and the production design rather than depth in its screenplay.
We know very little why he killed. Was it an addiction? Haigh also killed several strangers a crime he confessed to after his arrest.
A decent enough drama but it amounts to being just average.
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