Inception Media Group // 2011 // 135 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // October 19th, 2012
"We're going on a journey, Janet. Neither of us knows where it's going to end, but we're on it together." -- Fred West
On 25 February 1994, Gloucester housewife Janet Leach (Emily Watson, War Horse) received a call from local police requesting her immediate assistance as an Appropriate Adult. According to the UK Home Office -- a ministerial government department responsible for immigration, security, law and order -- "Appropriate adults are volunteers who play an important role in the custody environment, by ensuring the detained person whom they are assisting understands what is happening to them and why. They can be a family member, friend, volunteer, or social-care/healthcare professional."
Leach, then studying to become a licensed social worker, had taken the training course required, but had never before served as an AA, when brought in to witness and provide counsel during the questioning of fellow Gloucester resident Fred West (Dominic West, The Wire) about the disappearance of his sixteen year old daughter, Heather.
Casually dressed, unassuming and affable, West acknowledges Leach with a shy smile, waives his right to silence and launches into an explanation, beginning with "What happened was..." Maintaining his agreeable nature, West matter-of-factly describes himself becoming irate at Heather's sneering, insolent manner, causing him to grab her by the throat and choke her lifeless. "I cut her head off, and...well, I close her eyes first, 'cause...well, you're not gonna take a saw to your own daughte,r when she's sat there lookin' at ya, are ya?" West asks, reasonably.
Appropriate Adult is nothing like your father's made-for-TV movie.
This two-part British television production chronicles the disturbingly close relationship that develops between Leach and West, shrewdly forsaking such sensationalism as grainy slow-motion recreations of brutalities (West was charged with the rape, torture, murder, and dismemberment of twelve female victims, though he was alleged to have killed more), in order to keep razor sharp focus on the pair's slowly developing bond of codependence. By the same token, Appropriate Adult provides Emily Watson and Dominic West (no relation to the rel Fred) a chance to prove -- by dint of their mesmerizing performances -- they're among today's most underrated actors.
Director Julian Jarrold (Worried About The Boy) aids and abets her performers by keeping the camera reined in and creating a grim, gloomy, and claustrophobic sense that continues to intensify as the two become invested in one another. This is no mean feat, considering many scenes involve multiple players (the entire supporting cast is unassailable) and outdoor locations. While I've not had the pleasure of spending time in a busy British police station, there was never a moment where believability was being sacrificed for dramatic effect.
On the other hand, while the narrative trajectory of Leach's longtime (unmarried) partner Mike (well played by Anthony Flanagan) adds a great deal to the proceedings, her children serve primarily as scene-fillers; representing and resembling a family unit only. The lone exception is Janet's teenage son Josh (Rupert Simonian), whose job is to remind his mother how stupid and selfish she's being by doing her job. I'm not saying this isn't believable, but the action is interrupted several times by an ever-complaining teen, and you can decide how important that is to you.
More damaging is the decision to make Fred's wife and co-conspirator, Rose (Monica Dolan, Never Let Me Go), such a peripheral presence. Though she resembles a Tracey Ullman character, Dolan's performance is sheerly no-nonsense (resulting in a much-deserved BAFTA award win for Best Supporting Actress). Considering her importance to the case, her considerable absence is continually felt, like phantom limb pain.
Inception Media's no frills package delivers a vividly bleak standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, matched by a strong Dolby 2.0 Stereo track. Unfortunately, one essential is missing: English subtitles to help those of us who aren't conversant in thick Gloucester dialect. There are no extras.
The West murder case is one of the most grisly in modern times, no doubt familiar to citizens of the UK and True Crime buffs. However, this one caught me completely unawares, a sad comment on a world where depravity has become so universal that one doesn't have to look much farther than their own community to find it. I've purposefully provided as few details as possible, so as to allow American viewers the same shock experience I had. Though you needn't worry about keeping a sick bag nearby, Appropriate Adult will cause you to look over your shoulder more frequently.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Inception Media Group
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated