Timothy Spall stars in this biopic as the United Kingdom's most famous executioner

Pierrepoint

on June 01, 2007 by Richard Mowe
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The ominously titled Official Executioner of Great Britain was a mild-mannered individual (played in this biopic by Timothy Spall) who lived with his widowed mother in the North of England, married a respectable local woman (Juliet Stevenson) and eventually passed away at a ripe old age. He remains, however, one of the most famous individuals to ever tie a noose, yet he was able to disassociate himself from the horror of what he had to do. Between 1931 and 1956, Pierrepoint carried out up to 600 judicial hangings in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and post-war Germany, becoming the most prolific executioner in history. Although he later expressed the opinion that this tally in itself was “nothing to boast about,” he was proud of his craft and technique.

Spall is the perfect character actor for the part, managing to convey both a strange sympathy and sadness as he stares into the eyes of his doomed charges. All of Pierrepoint's notable executions are reconstructed here, against a rolling backdrop of British social history that gives Shergold's film an added dimension. Pierrepoint reached the peak of his career, and the height of his reluctant celebrity, when he was commissioned to hang the World War II German military prisoners, male and female, who had operated the Nazi death camp at Belsen. Later he came to be regarded with much greater ambivalence as a lethal symbol of the state. He had always tried to keep his job under wraps and was rather shocked when he became a hero for a time. He was equally surprised when the whole abolitionist movement swept the country and made him into a hate figure.

The only nagging question that remains unanswered is why Pierrepoint, or indeed anyone else, would want to be an executioner in the first place. The film won the audience award and the Kodak photography prize at the British Film Festival in Dinard.

Distributor: IFC First Take
Cast: Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson, Cavan Clerkin, Eddie Marsan, Christopher Fulford, Ian Shaw and Maggie Ollerenshaw
Director: Adrian Shergold
Screenwriters: Jeff Pope and Bob Mills
Producer: Christine Langan
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for disturbing images, nudity and brief sexuality
Running time: 94 min.
Release date: June 1, 2007 LA

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