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A Searingly Powerful Film
on December 11, 2011
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 accompany 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. Grady Harp, December 11