‘Appropriate Adult’: Episode 2 review

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After last week’s opening instalment of Appropriate Adult, which was concerned with the police investigation into the killings of Fred and Rose West, the action shifts for this concluding part.

Fred is in prison; the formal interviews are over, and, in the process, the programme loses some of the dark humour and escalating horror that characterised the first episode, but gains something else – a growing mutual dependency between West and Janet Leach, the appropriate adult of the title.

It makes for a slower pace; but, in some ways, a more ambiguous watch. Viewers accustomed to easy certainties in their dramas won’t have found them here. That West is, as Leach concludes, a ‘lying psychopath’ is clear enough. So much so obvious. That his dependency on Leach may extend beyond misogynistic game-playing is less certain.

Certainly, Fred, as played by Dominic West, has the maudlin self-pity of the serial killer, and the sentimentality too. But it is unknowable whether this is real, imagined or only and entirely a façade to appeal to the sympathies of the vulnerable. West is unnervingly down-to-earth – an Everyman in sideburns and sweaters. But he’s a gaping black hole, too – a hideous, grotesque question mark.

Inevitably, there are other question marks which hang over the production – not least to do with the behaviour of Janet Leach. As viewers, it’s easy to distance ourselves from the behaviour of West. But Leach is the audience identification figure – the voice of appalled humanity and disgust. So when she starts to behave with increasing gullibility and desperation – even to the extent of considering suicide – we feel so much vicariously the wrongness of it that we question how much this is dramatic contrivance.

Would any person be so naïve as to begin to consider themselves the redeemer-lover of a serial killer? And yet it occurs to us that they would and they do. Yes, there are certain moments where the script must manipulate its characters for the sake of dramatic convenience (is Janet the only one who answers the phone in her house?); but one fears not so many as one might think.

How easy it would be to watch this drama and consider Rose the more viciously sadistic predator of the two. In the climactic court scenes, she stares malignantly ahead, a crucifix around her neck, and dares the court to challenge her brutal silence. But both are mirrors of evil, and everyone touched by them is a victim. It may be only sixteen years ago, but in terms of the victim support that seems to be on offer to Janet Leach, it feels like a lifetime ago.

The programme ends on photographs of the girls and young women known, and in one case suspected, to have been killed by the Wests. There are thirteen pictures.

Aired at 9pm on Sunday 11th September 2011 on ITV1.

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