A biopic of Albert Pierrepoint (Spall), one of Britains last hangmen. Appointed in 1934, Pierrepoint personally handled more than 600 state-sanctioned executions including 13 Nazi war criminals and Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged for murder in
What does it take to be a state’s executioner? What kind of man would want such a position? How would carrying out scores of executions affect his conscience? His state of mind? His family life? All of these questions and more should have been addressed, perhaps even answered, in this examination of the eponymous executioner, originally made for television.
Timothy Spall is on superb form as Bradford-born Albert Pierrepoint, a third-generation hangman who, on this evidence, was a simple man in a morally complex job. Juliet Stevenson (’s answer to Frances McDormand) is equally excellent, and an exquisitely chilly presence as his wife Annie, who sees every death as a business transaction.
Any insight we are given — Albert actually applied for the job, and like many other public servicemen, simply and consistently strived to do it to the best of his ability — is competently handled, and veteran TV director Adrian Shergold does his best throughout to evoke the austerity of the times. But the actors’ understated performances, coupled with an underwritten screenplay, ultimately leave the audience dangling.
Spall does his best to get under the skin of a somewhat complex character, but unfortunately the by-the-numbers screenplay and made-for-TV production values leave behind the feeling that the whole enterprise could have been better executed.