thu 20/06/2024

White House Farm, ITV review - gripping opener of true crime drama | reviews, news & interviews

White House Farm, ITV review - gripping opener of true crime drama

White House Farm, ITV review - gripping opener of true crime drama

Freddie Fox is excellent as murderer Jeremy Bamber

From left: Mark Addy as DS Stan Jones, Freddie Fox (Jeremy Bamber) and Stephen Graham (DCI Taff Jones)

It's the smallest lies that can bring you down. When he is asked by a detective how he got on with his family, who have just been murdered in a mass shooting at their Essex farm, Jeremy Bamber (Freddie Fox) says: “Really well.

We were friends.” A quizzical look briefly scutters across the face of his cousin Ann Eaton (Gemma Whelan) who overhears. As this six-part series unfolds, we will see that it was pointless mistruths like that that would help bring about Bamber's eventual undoing.

It was one of many subtle moments of doubt dropped into ITV's White House Farm, which tells the story of how Bamber shot and murdered his parents Nevill and June, his sister Sheila Caffell (Cressida Bonas, pictured below), and her six-year-old twin sons, Daniel and Nicholas, in the early hours of 7 August 1985. 

A vain, lazy and dishonest man, Jeremy Bamber, then 24, wanted to inherit his parents' considerable wealth, and not share it with Sheila. They were both adopted, and neither was close to their mother – a fact well known within the wider Bamber family.

A convenient truth for Bamber, however, was that Sheila had mental health problems and so he was able to suggest to police at the scene that it was a murder-suicide, and that she had turned the gun on herself after fatally shooting her parents and sons. 

And only too willing to believe that he had an open-and-shut case was DCI Taff Jones (Stephen Graham), callously describing the tragic event as: “Four murders and a nutter with a gun.” Fortunately for the sake of justice, his colleague DS Stan Jones (no relation), played by Mark Addy, thought differently.

The opening episode efficiently set up a story that many viewers will have some memory of, or at least knowledge of a case that pops up in the media from time to time, as Bamber is still protesting his innocence and recently tried to delay the broadcast of this series. That can be a problem for dramatists – how do you tell a complicated story like this with verve, while respecting those who are still grieving?

Writer Kris Mrksa has managed to pull it off – even if the gruff detectives are a little stereotypical – and over the upcoming episodes we will see how the Bamber family became convinced it was Jeremy, not Sheila, who was the murderer, and how the case against him was constructed.

We'll also see why for some years after “doing a Bamber” was police slang for a badly handled case; DCI Jones did not preserve the crime scene properly, despite the pleas of DS Jones – which allowed Jeremy Bamber to launch unsuccessful appeals – while the Bamber adults were allowed to be cremated, which destroyed valuable forensic evidence.

Fox is excellent as Bamber, capturing the arrogance that led him to believe he could get away with the murders, while Bonas is terrific as the vulnerable and heavily medicated Sheila, and Mark Stanley gives great support as the twins' father, Colin Caffell (who was an adviser on the series). Paul Whittington (who also directed another true crime tale, Little Boy Blue), meanwhile, creates the jarring disjuncture of these horrific, bloody murders taking place in a beautiful summer landscape, with sweeping shots of yellow wheat fields and idyllic country lanes.

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