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Appropriate Adult, ITV1 | reviews, news & interviews

Appropriate Adult, ITV1

Appropriate Adult, ITV1

An oddly listless dramatisation detailing the aftermath of Fred West's arrest

Emily Watson and Dominic West as Janet Leach and Fred West in 'Appropriate Adult'

Appropriate Adult began with a series of jumpy scenes mapping the bustling domestic landscape of trainee social worker Janet Leach. It was as though we were being offered one last hit of the oxygen of conventional family life (though not, we later learned, one without its own troubles) before we descended into the dead, airless realm of peepholes, incest and floodlit excavations for bones and buried nightmares. Mercifully, we saw nothing of the crimes which brought everyone around the table, again and again, in those grim, characterless police interview rooms. Appropriate Adult was all about the aftermath of horror. That was enough.

Between 1967 and 1987 Fred West and his wife Rosemary tortured, raped and murdered at least 12 young women and girls, their own daughters among the victims. At the time West was finally arrested in February 1994, Leach was on an approved list of “appropriate adults”, volunteers who can be asked by the police to sit in on interviews with minors or vulnerable adults in order to assist them and safeguard their rights. She had, she said more than once, “done the training”. Not for this, she hadn't.

Created by the production team behind See No Evil: The Moors Murders, This is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper and The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, Appropriate Adult was Leach’s story, which meant by extension that it was supposed to be our story too. What happens to supposedly ordinary, everyday humans as they struggle to comprehend unspeakable acts of evil which come attached to a very human face, a clump of clownish hair and a needy, goofy, sometimes loveable grin? There but for the grace of God, the programme seemed to suggest, go us all.

Given the chance to withdraw from the West case Leach chose not to, even as it dragged her into a miasma of horror which polluted her home life and left her feeling manipulated and even implicated in West's crimes, being drip-fed titbits of information in the knowledge that she was obliged to treat them in confidence. West seemed to view her part lifeline, part co-conspirator, part potential conquest.

ApAdult2To what extent the events played out on the screen were mirrored in reality wasn’t really the issue. This was not, after all, documentary. No, the problem with Appropriate Adult was that it was so intent on not exploiting the events it detailed that it struggled to be drama at all. Scene followed scene, conversation followed conversation, and still nothing terribly interesting happened.

As such, the two central performances were asked to do an awful lot of heavy lifting. As Leach, Emily Watson battled gamely to communicate the feelings of a woman cast somewhere between West’s conscience, confessor and nemesis. Given almost nothing to say or do, her face worked overtime, scrolling through a flickering set of subtly conflicting emotions as she listened to his chatty account of his daughter Heather’s mutilation. “Three pieces,” he chewed, as though ordering takeaway. “Two legs, a head and a body...”

 

'The shabby stab at glamour was captured in the vistas of palm-fringed beaches pasted on the wall'

 

Dominic West (pictured above left) was also highly watchable as the multiple murderer, emitting calculation, charm and animal cunning in equal measure. He mixed childish sentiment, with his talk of “babbies” and “my Rose”, with something more primeval in his belief in spirit messages reaching from beyond the grave. But ultimately it was all too smooth and altogether one-dimensional, as though the urge to play against type and do more than simply portray a tabloid-issue “monster” had pushed the depiction too far in the opposite direction. The banality of evil is one thing, but the defining character of West seemed to be that of a needy, sympathetic clown, with little plausible sense of anything less pleasant lurking beneath. All the while Rose hissed and harangued from the wings, played with real menace by Monica Dolan. Next Sunday, in the concluding part, she will step centre stage.

There were dark, not-quite-successful flashes of pitch-black humour as West hinted at one body, then two, then three, then God only knew how many. “Now, was it eight or nine?” he pondered. Leach: “Shall we just put approx…?” The relentless misery of the house at 25 Cromwell Street was well portrayed, with its video cameras, bare light bulbs and peepholes, the low-rent, shabby stab at glamour captured in the vistas of palm-fringed beaches pasted on the wall.

This was, be in no doubt, well-made, thoughtful, quality television. To its credit, Appropriate Adult didn’t once veer into soap opera. There was no prurience, no flash, no gimmicks. But there was precious little dramatic tension, either.

There but for the grace of God, the programme seemed to suggest, go us all

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