Pierrepoint (4 stars)


ITV1, Mon 25 Aug, 9pm


Every now and again, the general public, as represented by the reactionary tabloid press, will rise up and demand a debate on the return of capital punishment. Fortunately, the process has never gone any further than some screeching headlines and perhaps, with the showing of films such as Pierrepoint, the calls will never come to much. Following in the ghoulish footsteps of his uncle and father, Albert Pierrepoint became the most well-known hangman in British history. The Usain Bolt of his day, Pierrepoint took special pride in breaking the record for the time taken between entering the prisoner’s cell and having them dangling through the trapdoor.

In his two-decade long career, he put to death Nazi war criminals, Ruth Ellis, Derek Bentley and Timothy Evans, but his feelings towards state-sanctioned murder seemed to turn when he took an old pal to the gallows for a crime of passion. Timothy Spall is as splendid as ever as a man slowly seeing the error of his chosen career while Juliet Stevenson excels as his arch wife forced to remain cold to his calling and subsequently has little humanity left to comfort him when his belief systems break down. Required watching for the Daily Mail set.

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