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A lesser production about the West's story would have probably gone for
Se7en style moods and grisly gory details. A horror.
Fortunately, and far more rewardingly for any engaged viewer, the story focuses on a human relationship story whilst allowing the imagination to piece together events in the background.
The dynamics of the relationship are fascinating, more-so because they are true. In the final analysis, that Janet (the appropriate adult) allowed herself to be manipulated and seduced by Fred West is a chilling illustration of the true nature of what we are dealing with here. The thought that this same psychological treatment would have led countless others into his trust, and ultimately their deaths, is far more terrifying in its cold reality than any conscious attempts at "horror" could have been.
Janet doesn't only represent the victims but also the vast majority of normal human beings - vulnerable to emotional needs, a willing and optimistic mindset, and the inability to always separate imagination from reality.
A very fascinating angle on a difficult subject.
APPROPRIATE ADULT may not be available on USA Format DVD as yet, but
for those interested in seeing this remarkable achievement in
filmmaking, it is viewable now on Sundance Channel. Watch for it.
APPROPRIATE ADULT is one of the few films that relates the true story
of a serial killer without resorting to forcing the audience to watch
reenactments of the murders. Instead the writer, director and actors
bring this savage bit of history to the screen solely through a serious
of interview conducted with the killer in the presence of the British
police and an 'Appropriate Adult' - one who has been trained to help
the accused by detecting if the accused has learning difficulties or
other encumbrances that might make the interviews invalid.
First a bit of fact: 'Frederick Walter Stephen West (29 September 1941 - 1 January 1995), was a British serial killer. Between 1967 and 1987, he alone, and later, he and his wife Rosemary, tortured, raped and murdered at least 11 young women and girls, many at the couple's homes. The majority of the murders occurred between May 1973 and September 1979 at their home in Gloucester. Rosemary West also murdered Fred's stepdaughter (his first wife's biological daughter) Charmaine, while he was serving a prison sentence for theft. During this time they resided at 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester. The house was demolished in 1996 and was converted into a landscaped footpath connecting Cromwell Street to St. Michaels Square.' It is now believed that West was responsible for 20 other similarly executed murders. The film focuses on the Appropriate Adult Janet Leach (Emily Watson in an Oscar worthy performance), a trainee social worker who is asked by Gloucester police to sit in on the interrogations of Frederick West (played with extraordinary skill by Dominic West). West is a sociopath whose past of preying on women comes from the animal magnetism he owns, a factor which is strong enough to keep Janet on the case a Fred's assigned 'helper'. Janet lives with Mike (Anthony Flanagan) who is a bipolar victim and with whom Janet has three children. The tightrope of psychological stability for Janet is threatened by her hearing all the grisly details of the murders as well as facing a home where Mike stop his lithium and must be psychiatrically hospitalized. Janet is repulsed by what Fred unwinds and decides she cannot manage to remain the appropriate adult, but Fred sees her as his only friend and promises here that if she stays on the case he will tell her the truth about everything. The interviews are held in the presence of Detective Constable Hazel Savage (Sylvestra Le Tousel), Detective Superintendent John Bennett (Robert Glenister), West's assigned solicitor Howard Ogden (Gerald Horan) and Janet. There are moments when Fred tells Janet details he hasn't shared with the police, but because of her assigned role as appropriate adult she must hold these conversations with the murderer in confidence. There are times when the interrogation group accompanies Fred to his home to find the bodies buried in his garden and cellar, but these breaks are few and outside of the visits to Janet's home and to the hospital while Mike is institutionalized the film is claustrophobically viewed in the dank interrogation room. Once the interrogation is complete and hearings begin, Fred pleads with Janet to visit him in prison to share all the details of his life. The manner in which their relationship comes to an end is shocking but allows Janet to return to her home life with Mike and her three children: the paparazzi finally leave Janet alone.
The story was written for the screen by Neil McKay and directed by Julian Jarrod. The film is approximately 2 1/2 hours in length, but the story is so fascinating and the acting is so incredibly fine on the part of everyone in this cast that the film itself feels short. Dominic West and Emily Watson are absolutely extraordinary in this film. With the quality of their performances it is doubtful the movie would have the enormous impact that it has.
STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning
** Sunday Night * Monday Morning
Given popular culture's fixation with crime and particularly topics such as serial murderers, it was an inevitability that eventually a film (a TV movie, at least) would be made about the crimes of Fred and Rose West. It was even more inevitable that there would be an out cry that it would glamorize and thus cheapen the real life murders. But, the producers of Appropriate Adult took a novel approach and chose to focus not on the actual murders themselves, but, as the title suggests, the AA that it was felt needed to sit in during Fred West's police interviews on account of his apparent 'learning difficulties.' That woman was Janet Leach, played here by Emily Watson, who went on to sell her story to the tabloids but who also appeared to suffer a certifiable breakdown, after seemingly forming a bond with West, falling under his dark spell. In doing so, it casts an interesting light on the case, bringing up facts that I certainly didn't know before seeing it (i.e. Rose West being a prostitute) and serving to make an unpleasant tale even more unsavoury.
As West, Coronation Street star Craig Charles had been in the running to play the role, but it appears to have gone to The Wire star Dominic West. I've never watched that show, so I can't compare him with what he's probably known best for, but he manages to bring West to life with an eerie darkness all of his own, interspersing his usual barrage of matter of fact recollections of his heinous crimes with the occasional emotional breakdown that reveals a vaguely human side to such a monster. It's his everyman appearance in general that makes him such an unnerving character. In support, Watson also seems like an eerily credible person, a woman desperately trying to stay professional in spite of hearing first hand accounts of crimes she can't accept are humanly possible, while still forming a bond with the perpetrator of these sick crimes.
A drama about West was always going to be in the pipe line for one day, and this is a sensitively handled and none voyeuristic handling, that is relevant, enlightening and of course, very disturbing. ****
Emily Watson, one of the great actors of our time, gives a superb performance as Janet Leach that may well be the finest work she has ever done. She is nothing less than hypnotic here as she lays bare the soul of a vulnerable woman who is involved in an experience she is completely unprepared for. While the portrait of Leach is profound and an incredible achievement, Watson doesn't get in our faces with her ACTING because she is almost invisible as she disappears into the character. What a truly memorable, stunning performance this is. The entire cast is excellent, as are all elements of the production, including writing and direction. However, it is Emily Watson who elevates this film to an artistic level of depth and realism that makes it totally riveting. There is no attempt by Watson to draw attention to herself and "steal" the film. "Gosford Park" is another example of how she shines in an ensemble piece and it naturally becomes her showcase. Her style is not flashy enough and far too superbly subtle to win Oscars. There isn't the teeth gnashing PERFORMANCE style of a Charlize Theron in "Monster", the sort of Halle Berry one-shot fluke that brings home the gold. Watson is an artist in the truest sense and it's her work alone that is her reward. In this film, what she does is so extraordinary, even for her, that perhaps the praise of critics will this time cause award committees and voters to take note of an actor they have too long overlooked because she never yells "look at me!" At any rate, reward yourself by watching an excellent film with an outstanding actress at her best, as usual.
Serial killers are thankfully rare, and almost by definition not normal. But Fred West was particularly peculiar, and is brilliantly captured here by Dominic West in the television drama 'Appropriate Adult'. The drama tells the story from the perspective of a woman (Janet Leach) who acted as a lay adviser to West during his interrogations; it's a way of avoiding the grizzly schlock inherent in the subject matter, although it also removes much of the dramatic potential - Leach had an ordeal in the witness box, owing to her contact with a national newspaper, but fundamentally did not have so much at stake as the Wests themselves, or the families of their victims. But if not that dramatic, the story is certainly compelling. Gordon Burn wrote a book on the case called 'Happy Like Murderers'; the appropriateness of this bizarre title is conveyed here as well. If it hadn't really happened, you couldn't have made it up. The grimmest truth is that there may still be further bodies out there
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I first heard bits and pieces about the vicious and unbelievable murders of serial killers Fred and Rose West from jokes made on Mock the Week, so naturally I was curious to see one of the first dramatisations of the story. Basically, set in 1994, Gloucestershire, Janet Leach (BAFTA winning, and Golden Globe nominated Emily Watson) is the voluntary worker and social worker brought in to sit in the interviews to help with the investigation into a series of murders. The man in question requiring her presence is Frederick Walter Stephen West (300's BAFTA winning Dominic West, no relation), who is suspected of killing his daughter and an ex-wife, and soon enough he confesses in detail to a killing or two. As time goes by and Fred agrees to show the authorities where he put the remains of his victims, he also hints to Janet of more people he has killed, but because of her obligation of confidentiality to him she cannot tell the police. Meanwhile, she also seems to be forming an overly complicated personal relationship with Fred as he gains her trust to help him get back his family and house, but to do this he must promise to reveal all the people he has killed. Also being questioned about the various murders, which may total up to twenty or more victims, is Fred's wife Rosemary Pauline West, née Letts (BAFTA winning Monica Dolan), who is seen on screen mostly swearing a lot and shouting that she is innocent and to let her husband go. After confessing the people he has allegedly killed Fred is sentenced to a court hearing which obviously turns into a life sentence, and Janet is forced but also obliged to continue the relationship with Fred in prison. The police continue their examination of the sights Fred pointed out, the bodies that have been found, and whether Rose is indeed guilty of killing as well, and Janet has a final telephone conversation with Fred. This is before the next day when he was found dead from hanging himself, Janet's husband realises that she may have had some bond towards the serial killer, like a friend. In the end, after Janet is slowly moving on with her own life with her husband and children Rose is the one who left to stand trial and she is indeed found guilty for many of the countless murders and sentenced to life imprisonment, advised never to be released. Also starring Hustle's Robert Glenister as Detective Superintendent John Bennett, Sylvestra Le Touzel as Detective Constable Hazel Savage, Anthony Flanagan as Mike, Samuel Roukin as Detective Constable Darren Law, Gerard Horan as Howard Ogden, Seline Hizli as Mae West, James McArdle as Stephen West, Rupert Simonian as Josh, Sophie Downham as Jade, Jasper Jacob as Brian Leveson QC, Robert Whitelock as DC Carl Kempinsky and Paula Williamson as Kirsty Stephens, and featuring the voices of real reports from Sir Trevor McDonald, John Suchet and Radio 1's Steve Scott. What is extraordinary about this dramatisation of the story is that it does not need to sensationalise any of the reported or discovered events, i.e. we never see any murders committed or see any bodies brought up from under the garden soil or the patio, this by the way is all I have heard about the murders, mostly from jokes made. Watson is fantastic as the social worker protagonist who sits and walks through the movements of the serial killer and finds some kind of odd but plausible need to be near him, and Dolan is really good as the swearing and equally dangerous Rose, but of course the show is stolen by the superb performance from West putting on an authentic Gloucestershire accent and is completely believable and powerful as the killer who acts calm but also nervous, but is not afraid when asked to describe in vivid detail about his murders and where the bodies can be found. I have had bad experiences with television dramas in the past, only Goodnight Mister Tom stands out as one of the truly brilliant ones, but I was pleasantly surprised by this utterly compelling and astoundingly played and scripted story of shocking murder and inhuman activity, played very calmly but fantastically engaging, superb crime drama. It won the BAFTA for Breakthrough Talent, and it was nominated for Best Director: Fiction for Julian Jarrold, Best Mini-Series, Best Production Design and Best Writer. Very good!
After conquering stage and screen and making them her own with a talent both exquisite and overwhelming, Ms. Emily Watson assaults the small screen and is once again victorious. She is absolutely stunning as she assays the role of Janet Leech, interpreting a character so sublimely that it takes the breath away from the unprepared casual viewer who is somehow unaware of Ms. Watson's incredible acting genius. Ordinairly, she alone would make this film a personal gem in her crown but she bows to the rest of the cast and humbly assists them in giving performances well worth her association. Watson inspires others to greatness, as she almost did even with Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk love. In that film, neither her lovely presence and creative power could quite achieve the impossible with Sandler. However, what she does with the more substantial material of West here and with a brilliant script is amazing. She was awarded the BAFTA for her accomplishment and of course lost the EMMY to a Hollywood airhead tootsie of limited ability but a casting couch regular. True magisterial talent is usually unrecognized by Oscar and EMMY and the outrage one feels at Watson having neither been awarded the recognition she more than deserves speaks for itself. More than an outrage, it is a disgusting and repellent act of ignorance and cowardice for her to have ever left any ceremony empty-handed. Britain, however, could not in this case turn their eyes away from a performance so powerfully moving, a performance that will live for all time, and define the artistry of a gifted, supreme actor. Emily Watson's performance in Appropriate Adult is one of the finest ever recorded on film and will forever serve as an example of the national treasure she continues to be as she assays one brilliant role after another. This is simply not to be missed by anyone appreciative of an artist at the pinnacle of her career and a beautiful genius whose very presence is beyond price. Emily Watson is a rare gift to literate theater and film audiences everywhere and the finest actor of her own generation as well as all others.
This was shown locally buried in a a midnight time slot.
Whilst Emily Watson delivers a commanding performance in the lead role of the "Appropriate Adult", it is Dominic West whose performance as the psychopathic killer Fred West which gives this story believability. In every scene he us mesmerising and you can feel the power of persuasion his characters had on women.
The power of the story is also made by how ordinary events seem. The supporting characters do not try to outshine the leads; this is not a show with quirky cops solving cases. It shows the mundane and procedural efforts required of the constabulary even when such a heinous set of crimes are being investigated.
This could very easily have been one of those dire woman-who-carries- the-load-let-down-by-men stories that get churned out in England with such dire monotony. Thankfully it rise above that sub-plot - rises and soars.
I totally agree with the last review. Perfectly done, Imagination is much more vivid than a movie most times. I am now retired but as a lad my Mum used to read to me, all sorts of books that she wanted to read, Caine Mutiny, Step right up (true story) and on and on. Anything I didn't understand she would explain to me, then when I could read I had a library card right off. Mum and I would wait anxiously for a movie to come out based on a book we had read. some missed the mark, some made it like Andy Griffith "No time for sergeants". And what a surprise ending, at least for me, living here in the USA, the story never made the headlines I am sure it got in the UK.
The Fred and Rosemary West murders on 25 Cromwell Street in Gloucester, Gloucestershire, Englandcertainly overshadow the Moors Murders that occurred in the early 1960s. To anybody who has read about the case, it's baffling to see a married couple like Fred and Rose (your next door neighbors) involved in some of the country's most heinous crimes to date. Separately Rose and Fred were toxic as poison but together committed crimes against humanity against innocent young women including two of their daughters. The cast does a brilliant job in bringing the characters to life. The Wests are not sympathetic people at all but Dominic West and Monica Dolan did deserve their awards. The series of events is taken by the appropriate adult, Janet Leech, who is assigned to Fred West. Emily Watson plays Janet Leech, a mother and wife to a bipolar man. Watson did a fantastic job. Dominic West did a superb job in bringing one of the most despicable murders to life. Monica Dolan also did a superb job playing Rose West, a candidate for the worst mother ever. Sylvestra Le Touzel plays police officer Hazel Savage MBE who went searching for Heather West. It was Heather's disappearance that launched an investigation. Hazel and Janet Leech were unsung heroines in this case. Hazel was awarded MBE for her services to the police. Hazel was a veteran police officer and perhaps the inspiration.
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