Richard Attenborough as John Christie in 10 Rillington Place (1971)

Murder at No. 10

Does the name John Christie mean anything to you? It meant nothing to me before I watched "10 Rillington Place" but it is a name I will never forget. You see John Christie was a British serial killer who during the 1940s and 50s murdered women, as well as a baby, in his home at 10 Rillington Place, burying them in the garden, under floor boards and in a hidden alcove. It is because of Christie that there was a miscarriage of justice when Timothy Evans was hung for the murder of his wife and child when it was Christie who killed them. What that means is that "10 Rillington Place" is a dramatization of Christie's murders as well as the Timothy Evans case and it is despite being over 40 years still an unsettling movie, creepy in its authentic feel and featuring an equally creepy performance from Richard Attenborough.

"10 Rillington Place" opens during 1944, there is a blackout and a woman calls at 10 Rillington Place for some help from John Christie (Richard Attenborough). What we witness is Christie tricking her, knocking her out with gas and after gaining a sexual release strangles the woman, burying her in the back garden next to the body of another woman. It jumps 5 years and the arrival of Timothy Evans (John Hurt), his wife Beryl (Judy Geeson) and their baby who move into the top flat and who John quickly realises despite Timothy's bravado about wealthy relatives are poor and desperate. When Beryl learns that she is pregnant again John offers to help them out by performing the termination, having persuaded them that he had previous training in the medical field.

John Hurt and Judy Geeson in 10 Rillington Place (1971)

I could go on because there is a lot which goes on in "10 Rillington Place" but that brief synopsis sets the creepy scene of John Christie and his killing spree at his home. But without going in to precise details we also see a dramatization of the Timothy Evans case where he is tried for the murder of his wife and baby and we also see what happens to John Christie in the years after and how not only his crimes came to light but also his arrest. It is no spoiler to say that because the case of John Christie is well documented and that is something which is quite special about this movie because whilst a dramatization it sticks close to the facts including his arrest when a policeman challenged him to show some ID.

Now trust me what John Christie did, the way he conned women with his fake medical talk and his way of knocking them out before getting his sexual kicks is disturbing. But it is also just as disturbing watching him manipulate the illiterate Timothy Evans especially when Christie had to give evidence in court as Evans accused him of murder. You get a real sense that Christie was surprisingly cool and calculated to the point that you wonder whether he believed the lies he was telling.

What this means is that "10 Rillington Place" is all about Richard Attenborough and his performance as John Christie and it is one of Attenborough's finest. From are first encounter with the gently spoken Christie there is something unsettling about him, not threatening but really uneasy even when he is doing something as simple as offering a cup of tea. The way Attenborough moves around the room, the way he looks at the other actors, it is a case that whilst physically Attenborough is recognizable he creates such a real character you forget you are watching him. It means that despite two brilliant performances from John Hurt and Judy Geeson as Tim and Beryl Evans it is the creepy characterisation from Attenborough which makes "10 Rillington Place" so edgy and memorable.

What this all boils down to is that "10 Rillington Place" is still despite being over 40 years a fantastic thriller and a creepily authentic dramatization of the life of serial killer John Christie. Whilst director Richard Fleischer deserves praise for creating such great atmosphere it is Richard Attenborough's performance as John Christie which is mesmerizing in an uneasy way.