Saturday, 26 October 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1971: Richard Attenborough in 10 Rillington Place

Richard Attenborough did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying John Reginald Christie in 10 Rillington Place.

I think this is probably the best time to cover Attenborough's performance in 10 Rillington place since he is my win in the extremely strong leading category of 1971.

Serial killers are often portrayed characters on screen often portrayed through fairly flamboyant often theatrical performances. This is not necessarily a bad thing as many good to great performances have come from this approach, but this is not the approach taken by Richard Attenborough as John Reginald Christie. Attenborough approaches his part in tune with the film which goes for a bluntly realistic look into the events surrounding the murderer. Richard Attenborough seeks to make John Reginald Christie a real man who is doing what Christie does in this film. Attenborough doing so lets us into a very dark place as he simply shows this man for exactly who he is in all of his horrible detail.

Attenborough sets out to make Christie entirely his own man with his accent he uses and an off putting thin voice he uses in the role. Also Attenborough has a very unique body language that always seems to keep Christie away form others. Attenborough makes the man who in his natural state a man without any warmth in his body or spirit. There is just an air to him that is unnerving which Attenbrough brings out in an entirely natural fashion. Attenborough never alludes to a performance as he never over steps the role. This only adds to absolutely frightening quality to his performance as it feels as though we simply are just watching a killer on screen. There is no actor acting up the part of a serial killer, no Attenborough instead lets us simply observe the natural behavior of Christie.

Attenborough makes Christie a man you can't trust or maybe you can trust to be who he is making watching him a very chilling affair. The simple way Christie checks to see who has arrived at 10 Rillington place is nerve racking as that small man peers out the window examining whoever it may be, a normal reaction for Christie it seems, as played by Attenborough, as though he always checked first to see whether they might be a potential victim or perhaps even the police finally making an inquiry on his behavior. There are many constants that Attenborough brings to the part of Christie and all of his behavior that would be that of a serial killer, such as looking for victims or checking on his garden of corpses, is all part of his day in the way Attenborough portrays it.

Although the film depicts more then one of his murders the film focuses mostly on giving all the details on Christie's murder of Beryl Evans, who along with her husband Timothy (John Hurt) has moved in the top floor of the same house where Christie lives. Attenborough is terrifying as Christie interacts with the Evans family with at first an annoyance as their constant fighting bores him, but there is just a moment though when the Evans first arrive. The Evans family is walking up and Attenborough has Christie take a quick glance at Beryl as she walks up the stance. A most inappropriate glance only a momentary for sure but such an uneasy moment as in Attenborough eyes do we see the beginning of a lust in Christie which is sexual but for him a sexual lust means murder.

A way to commit the murder comes to Christie when Beryl wishes to have an abortion, as she as Timothy have very little money, and suddenly Christie seems to like them so much more. Attenborough is absolutely devious in the part as he shows Christie lying through his nose as he tells both husband and wife of his so called experience with medicine that would allow him to perform the abortion. Although Christie is now lying Attenborough still stays perfectly natural and at ease as this is the way Christie operates, as we see a murder before and set up for another murder after where Christie also tells his victim about his false medical credentials. Attenborough in these scenes brings out the welcoming, even tender side of Christie and is convincing that Christie could bring the women into his "care".

When Christie finally sets about giving Beryl an "abortion" the scene is given great detail as we follow Christie through every single step in his process. This is a horror scenes like few horror scenes are. There are dramatic cuts, or a pounding soundtrack rather it leaves Richard Attenborough merely to bring the horror of the scene through his matter of fact portrayal of Christie's method. Attenborough brings us right into Christie's mind as he tasks himself with murder and we see him proceed in an unbearably believable fashion. Attenborough portrays Christie as almost a workmen who is just going about his task as he grabs all of his equipment and material, making sure everything is just right when he goes to commit a murder once again.

The murder itself is particularly disconcerting as Attenborough makes Christie like a gentle doctor as he talks Beryl into breathing in poisonous gas which he says will be safe because it is going through a special liquid. The murder is shown in unflinching detail as Christie kills her and Attenborough brings out the full psychopath. Attenborough shows the killing as relatively quick and to the point and his expressions are especially disturbing as Attenborough shows a determination and pleasure as he makes sure Beryl is dead with a rope. It does not end there as we see that lust come from Christie again and Attenborough is does not hold anything back in showing the unbridled depravity as Christie embraces and passionately kisses her dead corpse.

What is so striking about all of it though is that Attenborough never makes Christie a monster, but rather a man committing monstrous actions. A very effective moment comes just as he has finished with the murder and his "fun" with Beryl as someone comes to the door. Attenborough shows the man in Christie in the fear in his face as he tries his most to hold back the door with all of his strength. This humanity that Attenborough gives to Christie though does not make us sympathize with him but rather makes these scenes all the harder to watch. Christie is not some creature that is from another world, or even a man who lacks any connections with emotions. No, Attenborough makes John Christie an actual man who knows exactly what he is doing and does it anyway.

The evil of Christie does not end with that murder though and it continues as Timothy comes home to find his wife dead. Attenborough brings such sadism to every line as Christie offers no condolences to Timothy's loss but only very coolly manipulates Timothy into doing what he wants. Attenborough makes Christie almost as vicious as he was in the murder scene through the very calmly yet so incisively directs Timothy into doing exactly what Christie wants him to do. He and Hurt are terrific together as Hurt's makes Timothy such a heartbreaking emotional wreck at the time well Attenborough plays against that in a perfectly jarring fashion by keeping Christie always in control of the situation making Timothy even agree to Christie to tending to Timothy's daughter.

After Christie gets Timothy to leave comes the scariest moment in the whole film where Timothy's daughter is crying and it soon becomes clear that Christie had no intention of sending her to a loving family. The face Attenborough has as he tightens the tie, and prepares to deal with something as though it were a nuance rather then a human being is spine chilling. Of course we do get a reprieve of sorts when Timothy nuisance is put on trial for his wife's murder, and Christie is called in to testify. Attenborough finds the right balance in his performance to give the sense of worry in the man from being found out, but leaving that as an underlying factor which is outmatched by his ability to keep calm and stay with his lie. He only becomes emotional when Timothy's verdict is read. It is a remarkable moment for Attenborough as Christie almost seems to cry for it. I like that Attenborough and the film keep the moment open to interpretation whether it was a cry of relief or a cry of regret. 

The closing scenes of the film depict Christie getting on with his life which is not a good thing as that means continuing on with his routine of murdering. These scenes are still gruesomely fascinating because of Attenborough's portrait of Christie. Like Hurt's work, Attenborough does not make one facet of this man completely define him and particularly in the closing scenes of the film we see normal problems for Christie as he suffers from a bad back and poverty. Attenborough shows Christie bears these things like any man would and in doing this only serves in making his continued murders all the more distressing. Christie is a man when you get right down to it but a man whose hobby is to murder women in the most unpleasant, and really the only reason he stops is because he runs out of money which also contributes to why he is finally caught. This is astonishing uncompromising turn by Richard Attenborough that is one of the horrifying performances ever given. 


Psifonian said...

Attenborough is so close to supplanting McDowell as my Lead Actor win in '71, to the point that I almost decide to give it to Malcolm because I already give Richard two acting wins. He's ferociously terrifying here.

mrripley said...

The scene that chilled me the most and still gives me the creeps now at 37 today is the scene where he is putting his wife under the floorboards,i'd grown to like his wife,such a chilling scene and more so because Attenborough as you say makes it seem just part of Christie.Great write up.

richard cockburn said...

very scary film and the fact its all true is even more scary richard attenborough played a brilliant role so did john hurt