True crime documentaries and feature films and series have been extremely popular in recent years, but this subgenre is not a new invention. Let’s just remember the masterpiece “In Cold Blood” which was shot in 1967 by Richard Brooks based on the novel of the same name by Truman Capote. Watching “10 Rillington Place”, I had the impression at times that this creepy crime story about a serial killer from London’s Notting Hill is a kind of British response to the cult American crime story. It also seemed to me that “10 Rillington Place” is an unusual hybrid of typical British kitchen sink realism and a terrifying thriller, and more than half a century after it was shot by Richard Fleischer, this film still freezes blood in its veins.
This crime drama follows the story of serial killer John Christie played by the legendary Richard Attenborough, the Oscar winner for Best Director for “Gandhi” and the older brother of the even more famous wildlife documentary filmmaker David Attenborough. Immediately in the introductory scene that takes place in 1944, we realize who he is. A patient who drags an unknown woman into his apartment kills her and then buries her body in the yard. Five years later, a young and simple family arrives in his building. Tim (young John Hurt) is a simple and illiterate manual worker who moved to London with his wife Beryl (Judy Geeson) and a one-year-old daughter. They barely make ends meet, and when Beryl tells her husband she’s pregnant again, he won’t be thrilled. This is where a slimy neighbor, Christie, intervenes and convinces them that he was once a military doctor and that he specializes in abortions, and that naive and simple people will believe him.
His sadistic instincts will prevail and he will kill first Beryl, then the child, and for these unimaginable crimes, Tim will be on the dock. And it all seems terribly cold, creepy from the start. From the very character of Christie and what he does to the ease with which the British justice system will find a suspect in the Team, but also to the depiction of place and time. There is no glamorous and dazzling London that we often see in movies. It’s that cold, dirty post-war London that’s still recovering and where people mostly barely survive. And from the set design because the film was shot at the actual location where most of Christie’s murders took place to the poverty, the ignorance of the characters, the time is brilliantly portrayed here.
Fleischer had previously practiced making true-crime films, so he had previously made films about the Boston Strangler, and it is interesting that one American made probably the most British true-crime film ever. It is obvious that a lot of attention was paid to details and we tried to make absolutely everything as realistic as possible, and we succeeded. Attenborough, who was a big star at the time, was skeptical about accepting the role, and although his character as Christie was terribly repulsive, he eventually accepted it and did a great job. The young John Hurt was also great at the time, an actor I read about somewhere who is an absolute record holder in that he most often “died” in the film, and such a fate, clearly, he did not avoid here either.