This docu-drama focuses on a crime case I was only ever vaguely familiar with. The psychopathic criminal The Black Panther was a petty thief called Donald Neilson who moved up to robbing post offices in the middle of the night between the years 1972-75. These crimes became increasingly violent resulting in the murders of several postmasters. He followed this with his most notorious crime, the kidnapping of Lesley Whittle, an adolescent girl from a rich family. He abducted her from her bedroom in the middle of the night and hid her deep underground in a drainage shaft. The girl died here, hung by a wire noose that he had left her tethered to.
This film was very controversial when released. It was singled out by the media as a film which was exploiting a recent notorious criminal case. As a result, after a brief release it was more or less buried, until recently when it was re-released on DVD. Perhaps the film was released too close to the horrible crimes it depicted but even so, this is a carefully handled film which remains downbeat throughout and doesn't veer into exploitation territory. In any case, there is a certain irony in the media getting on their high horse about this film, given that it was the print media's irresponsible actions which more than likely contributed to Lesley Whittle's eventual murder by emblazoning her kidnapping story across their front pages and in doing so seriously jeopardising the ransom situation. What can be said with certainty though is that this is a very strong bit of British cinema. It is underpinned by a chilling central performance from Donald Sumpter as Neilson. He completely convinces as this cold killer. Aside from some poetic license being taken for certain unverifiable moments, the film-makers were at pains to keep the details of the screen-play as close to the record as they possibly could. This has resulted in a downbeat and realistic portrayal of events. Nevertheless, it is highly suspenseful and compelling, if somewhat depressing, stuff. It truly is one of the best true crime films out there and is very much recommended.
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