The Case of Charles Peace (1949)
A Victorian Rogue
At the Hendon police academy Sir Clement Barnes KC (Valentine Dyall) lectures the trainees on the case of Charles Peace (Michael Martin Harvey) an infamous thief and murderer from the Victorian era. Peace's 2nd trial in February 1876 drew an audience from all around the country as he pleads not guilty to murder. But as the case unravels so does the life of Charles Peace as this amiable businessman by day is shown to be a vile criminal by night, a thief willing to commit murder to pull off the crime and a man obsessed with another man's wife.
I have to be honest and say that I had never heard of Charles Peace before stumbling across "The Case of Charles Peace" and in fact was surprised when I learned that this British movie from the late 1940s was in fact based on a real person. But in truth the character of Charles Peace is a fascinating one and I urge you if you have never heard of Peace go and do some reading up on him as you will be surprised. You will also be surprised to learn that this criminal from the Victorian era ended up in a comic strip as a sort of Robin Hood style character.
Anyway back to "The Case of Charles Peace" and after the lead in with the police trainees what we get is a recreation of the Victorian court case as we see various people take to the stand and with each one we get a flashback to an earlier episode in the life of Charles Peace. And right from the start when we get a flashback to Peace's home we immediately get this fascinating contradiction of a character as he is a proud family man, reading the bible on Sunday and admonishing his son for a wrong doing yet we then see him preparing to go out to the home of the woman he is obsessed with. What follows is how Charles becomes obsessed with Mrs Dyson which leads to the Dyson's moving away but Peace following them till he goes too far and murders Mr. Dyson forcing him to go on the run. But we also get to see earlier crimes as well which contribute to paint a picture of a real rogue.
Now there is a lot of things which are good about "The Case of Charles Peace", the camera work whilst nothing special is in fact of a good quality which makes it very easy to watch and director Norman Lee does a wonderful job of keeping the movie ticking over, concentrating on making it entertaining rather than a dry recreation of the Victorian era and in doing so making this fascinating life of a Victorian rogue come to life. But it is Michael Martin Harvey who makes the movie because he makes Charles a lovable rogue, a man with big plans and a quirky charm about him yet also a nasty side which he keeps under raps.
What this all boils down to is that "The Case of Charles Peace" is a little gem of a movie because for a forgotten about movie of a forgotten about criminal it draws you in to his interesting life. Much of the reason why it works is down to Michael Martin Harvey who is brilliant at delivering the characters split personality of being kind but also nasty.
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