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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.
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.
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.
My only problem with this movie is Martin Clunes. He acts it well, but
is so often shown on TV as an extremely affable and likable character
that it's almost impossible to believe him as a serial killer. Be it in
fiction ("Men Behaving Badly") or documentary (about both dogs and
horses) he always comes over as a jolly nice chap (which I'm sure he
is). Casting him as a cold-blooded serial killer just doesn't work it
worked when Leone cast the blue-eyed angel Henry Fonda as a psychopath
in "Once upon a Time in America", but casting Clunes as a serial killer
is a step too far.
Having said that this is nonetheless a gem of a movie. Set design is pure '40s and the use of 1940s music is extremely well done. Hence my 8/10 rating.
*** 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
I thought Martin Clunes was excellent as Haigh as was the rest of the cast and the locations look the part, too. I had heard of Haigh before, but I didn't realize how weird he was. His insanity plea was a good try what with thee vampires ectetera but it was all for money, wasn't it? I wonder how his parents coped bearing in mind their strict religious views. I doubt that the Plymouth Bretheren upbringing can really be blamed or they'd be banned, wouldn't they? His girlfriend and wife were lucky to live! I lived in Sussex for 25 years and am glad it was two decades after his demise. I expect that these days he'd have got a sentence of 6 months for theft and a course of psychotherapy on the NHS! brrrrr! really good creepy drama.
Martin Clunes is again is a wonderful actor in this drama of a true story
set in the war years. He plays a highly convincing murderer and plays the
part wonderfully. Another great British drama which is very interesting
watch. 'Goodbye, Mr Chips' is another great British drama which no
ones even seem to get close to! Keep them coming British tv, keep this
entertaining drama coming.
Worth 9/10 definitely!
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