Last year, between the two of us, we watched an average of 317 movies.
This year our goal is to top that by watching at least one a day.
And as an extra special torture, we've decided to write about all of them.

12 April 2008

Pierrepoint (aka. The Last Hangman), dir. Adrian Shergold (2005)

STEVE says:
Pierrepoint is a harsh movie. A biopic of Britain's most celebrated and prolific hangman (between 1933 and 1955, Albert Pierrepoint was responsible for the hangings of 608 people), it wasn't going to be a laff-riot.

Although it's pretty free and loose with the facts - not the least of which, that Pierrepoint was not Britain's last hangman, despite the movie's US title - I can't hold that against it because I wasn't exactly conversant with the facts in the first place. But facts, to paraphrase Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read, should never get in the way of a good story.

And it was a good story: Pierrepoint tried to keep his job as Executioner completely separate from his daily life as a grocer, and later a publican, but it would eat away at him over his 22 years of service, as he first tried to live up to his father's reputation as Executioner, then avoid the same pitfalls that destroyed his father later in life. It's a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, really - I can only wish it had been told with more care.

As I said, it wasn't so much the shuffling of the facts that bothered me about Pierrepoint; it 's that it felt rushed. I know it's difficult to go through 22 years of a man's life in under 90 minutes, but this was a bit much. Early in the movie, Pierrepoint is shyly trying to ask Juliet Stevenson's Annie to a movie. Then they're dancing, then they're married and she's serving him dinner, then they're at the cinema watching newsreel about Nazi War Crimes. Hang on - that's something like 13 years in the space of only ten minutes. Then it's 1950, and then the movie's over. While I didn't feel as though I missed anything, I also didn't feel like any time had actually passed. Simply superimposing the year in the corner of the screen every now and again would have gone a long way in keeping me temporally grounded.

And it has to be said, I've a newfound respect for Timothy Spall (who I'm now coming to think of as The Great Timothy Spall). To this day, I've always found it difficult to separate him from his role as the pitiful-yet-creepy Dr. Polidori in Ken Russell's Gothic, but he was moving and utterly convincing as this man who basically led a dual life, and was almost destroyed by it.


NIKKI says:
Steve is right: This movie needed more time to tell its complex story. So much went on in Pierrepoint's 20 years at the gallows, and though the film did very well in eliciting concern for the man, respect, and pity, I felt there was more to his life that could have been explored.

This was very much the snapshot version of a life, so instead of viewing it as a biopic about Pierrepoint, I think I appreciated it more as a lesson in history. Just how Britain selects its hangmen, what they have to do, how they cope -- all intriguing elements of this story. I was enthralled by Pierrepoint's handling of his position. The manner in which he dropped the floor on 13 Nazi war criminals (men and women) without batting an eye was just fascinating. What it does to him in the end is even more so.

The routine-ness with which Pierrepoint carries out his duties speaks to this sad time in world history. This is not the place to get into issues of capital punishment, but I would have liked to know a bit more about Pierrepoint's eventual change of heart, speaking out against the death penalty as a means for revenge. What does Pierrepoint think of the fact that he put innocent men to death? I realise he's carrying out orders, and who gets to the gallows is not his decision, but that has to do something to a person?

His downfall began when he became famous for his work, and when he put a friend to death. But what of these other things? Again, reason this was too short. There's so much to explore here. Still, a good film about a horrible thing.

Abolish the Death Penalty.


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