Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Another Life - 2001 film review

Another Life is a film that is surprisingly little-known. Dating from 2001 and written and directed by Philip Goodhew, it tells a famous story, that of Edith Thompson, the so-called "Messalina of the Suburbs" who was hanged for a murder committed by her lover Frederick Bywaters. Bywaters attacked Edith's husband Percy late one night. Edith's fate was sealed by compromising letters she'd written to her lover in which she'd fantasised about killing Percy.

The case attracted huge public interest. E.M. Delafield wrote the first novel about it and F.Tennyson Jesse wrote the most acclaimed one, A Pin to See the Peep-Show. The trial fascinated Anthony Berkeley, who took the view that Edith was "executed for adultery"; many commentators agree with his interpretation of events, and the case has gone down in history as a classic miscarriage of justice.

The film pays very little attention to the trial, focusing instead on the story of Edith's life, from the time she first got to know strait-laced Percy. The relationship is nicely drawn, and I was impressed by the lead actors. Natasha Little (Edith), Nick Moran (Percy), and Ioan Gruffud (Freddie) are all perfectly convincing, though my previous impression had been that Freddie was rather more stupid than his portrayal here suggests. Ioan Gruffud presents him as passionate and volatile, and it's certainly a credible reading of the character. Rachael Stirling is also very good as Edith's sister Avis.

I've read and written about this case a number of times, and I was pleased by the way the film made me think about it afresh in some respects. To what extent did Edith really want her husband to die? What was in Bywaters' mind when he launched his murderous attack? Did he genuinely expect to get away with it? Philip Goodhew doesn't try to give definitive answers to these questions. but his film is highly watchable.

1 comment:

David Chapman said...

Percy Bywater is buried in the City of London cemetery. Then by chance I came across that of Edith Thompson in Brookwood Cemetery. If I remember correctly it says on her gravestone 'Lawfully Killed'.