13 December 2014 | davideo-2
A strong central performance is the driving force of this above average TV drama
STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning
In the cold, frosty winter of 2010, a young woman called Joanna Yeates went missing in a small English suburb, only for her body to be found buried in the snow on Christmas Day. Without any solid, firm evidence, the finger of suspicion pointed straight away at Christopher Jeffries (Jason Watkins), Joanna's reclusive, eccentric landlord, who had a reputation as a 'local weirdo.' Before long, he had been arrested and questioned under caution in connection with the murder, only to be released from remand when a demanding legal counsel highlighted the lack of hard proof which saw him freed. But Jeffries had already been a subject of trial by media, with the various tabloid rags ripping him to shreds and attacking his character, before the real killer was finally caught. There then followed a determined legal effort with the same council to bring the press to charge on their conduct, with Jeffries even being invited to add his voice to the Leveson Inquiry.
We like to think of Britain, certainly in modern times, as an enlightened, understanding, tolerant society, where those that are different and don't quite fit in to the norm are, if not always included, at least respected and left to live their lives without any undue harassment. It's horrific to think that small mindedness, especially in times of darkness, can come to the fore and soil our national character, and yet that was the bind Christopher Jeffries found himself in. This quaint, old fashioned, unassuming man, who kept himself to himself and lived pretty obliviously to everyone else's impressions of him, was suddenly thrust in to the national spotlight, to face undue, unfounded condemnation from everyone.
This TV drama from ITV caught my eye, primarily because I remembered the case when it first happened (shows how old I'm getting when I start casting my mind back far!) and, not generally watching a lot of TV, it says a lot that I was intrigued to watch both parts. Or maybe just the character of Jeffries himself had me wondering a little. It's just as well, if that was the case, as Jeffries is literally the sole driving force of the project, occupying almost every scene , as befits documenting a guy who had very little contact with others. And so it's very pleasing that Watkins's portrayal of him is so dynamic. It's known from the magazines that he met the real life Jeffries in preparation for his role, and obviously observed his every mannerism, completely immersing himself in this character. It's an astonishing piece of method acting, and the driving force of the production.
So focused is it on Jeffries that it detrimentally leaves out a bit of subtext involving others involved in the tragedy, notably Joanna's nearest and dearest, which robs it of some more solid human drama that it could have evoked. But a central performance this invigorating can't be ignored, and neither can a surprise celebrity cameo that brings the end to life a bit. Mainly, though, it's a challenging examination of how those who are different are treated and how far we think we've come, but really haven't. ****