SYNOPSIS: “The life of housewife Janet Leach is transformed when she is asked by police to act as 'appropriate adult' for a man they have arrested - serial killer Fred West.” (itv.com)
The premise of 'Appropriate Adult' might lead you to expect a certain amount of gratuitous gore or 'CSI'-esque flashback scenes, but (mercifully) it tackles the harrowing subject matter with respectful subtlety, unravelling a story that’s both compelling and disturbing in equal measure.
Circumventing the murders themselves, 'Appropriate Adult' follows the events of the 1994 police investigation, focusing on the involvement of Janet Leach (Emily Watson) as Fred West’s (Dominic West) appropriate adult – an impartial figure whose job it is to assist vulnerable suspects as they are held in custody and questioned.
West is brilliantly cast (and not just because of his apt last name), delivering a startling performance. There is no pantomime villain in his portrait of Fred West – he is needy, charming, unsettling, devious, charismatic, occasionally childlike and politely unhinged, inspiring both sympathy and revulsion.
Emily Watson – perhaps best known for her leading role in 'Breaking The Waves', which earned her an Oscar nomination – does equally well as harassed mother Janet, who is thrust head-first into a traumatic and bewildering world of claustrophobic interview rooms, and expected to act as confidante and helper to the most reviled man in Britain. (Note: If they’re ever looking for a sequel to Sarah Jessica Parker’s 'I Don’t Know How She Does It', this is what a credible lifestyle dilemma looks like.)
The evolution of the Stockholm-Syndrome-like relationship between Fred and Janet is fascinating, as is the warped, symbiotic bond between Fred and Rose West (Monica Dolan). Dolan’s performance as the frankly terrifying Rose is one of many highlights, although her screen-time is minimal.
One of the most surprising elements of 'Appropriate Adult' is its dark humour, which provokes horrified laughter of disbelief – at one point, while being interrogated on the subject of his sadistic sexual practices; Fred West rebuffs the questioning with the straight-faced defence that he is “broad-minded”.
Fleeting moments of humour aside, 'Appropriate Adult' is not one to watch if you’re looking for a spot of light entertainment – nor should it be taken as a strictly factual account, as the opening disclaimer takes pains to point out. It is, however, a sensitive, haunting and extremely well-acted piece of drama.
Watch 'Appropriate Adult' on ITV Player – part one is available until 3 Oct '11, and part two is available until 11 Oct '11. Purchase on DVD from amazon.co.uk etc.