18 December 2002 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
UPDATE: I originally wrote the following review after watching only the second (1981) series of 'Lady Killers', which featured dramatisations of true murders committed by men upon women victims. Another IMDb reviewer has recently pointed out to me that the first (1980) series of episodes featured murderesses who had male victims ... such as the notorious Madeleine Smith, who was famously found 'not proved' guilty in the traditional Scottish verdict. I regret the error, and I thank the reviewer who pointed it out. Now, read on.
"Lady Killers" (no relation to the famous comedy film "The Ladykillers") is a low-budget anthology series compered by Robert Morley. Each episode is an historical re-enactment of a famous murderer (usually a serial killer, rather than a one-off) ... the gimmick being that all the murderers are men and all their victims are women. It would have been interesting to see a few famous murderesses getting a look-in, such as Madeleine Smith or Mrs Maybrick or even Myra Hindley.
As if embarrassed by the sexism and prurience of their own gimmick, the producers of this series have downplayed murderers who acted for sexual gratification (such as Jack the Ripper and his 1960s imitator, Jack the Stripper) in favour of murderers who were motivated by profit or misogyny, such as the Acid Bath Killer. There is also a tendency here to avoid the more lurid methods of murder (stabbing, gunshot) in favour of stranglers and poisoners. Each episode begins in 'Masterpiece Theatre' fashion, with Morley seated in a comfortable armchair, cosily giving us a few details about the life of the murderer we are about to meet, and his historical context. Then we see an enactment of the murders and their aftermath, often set in Victorian (or at least pre-World War) Britain, always depicted on an extremely low budget with downmarket actors.
Robert Morley is a poor choice to host this series. He plays the whole thing as a big joke, a hugely enjoyable bit of fun. This emphasises the offensive nature of this series. As the violence depicted here is exclusively male-on-female, Morley's tendency to treat it all as a joke plays up to the unfortunate tendency of male audiences to view violence against women purely for its entertainment value, without making any attempt to empathise with the (real or fictional) victims. There's an unfortunate implication hanging over this series ... namely, an impression of men and women fulfilling pre-ordained roles: men as killers and women as their victims. I'm sorry to be so Politically Correct, but this nasty little series deserves it. At this point in his career, Morley was just a hack who would take any job that paid the bills for his immense luncheon-hampers from Fortnum and Mason.
I'll rate "Lady Killers" two points out of 10. I enjoy Morley's work in several of his other roles, but not here. The enactments of the real-life murders are scrupulously accurate, but the educational (and entertainment) value of this series is minimal.