TV Review: Appropriate Adult

“I’m not your friend Fred”

Not strictly a DVD review as I watched this on Netflix, finally getting round to using it having signed up a while back, and part of an impromptu Monica Dolan weekend – having seen her on stage for the first time with a magnificent turn in Chalet Lines and watching a DVD of her in She Stoops To Conquer. Her role as Rose West in Appropriate Adult is actually quite small across the two hour-long (ish) episodes but given how ferociously foul-mouthed and genuinely terrifying it is, this is probably a good thing.

The focus is on Fred West and Janet Leach, the trainee social worker drafted in to be the ‘appropriate adult’ whilst he is being questioned at a Gloucestershire police station on suspicion of the murder of his daughter. Her presence was requested to ensure that there could be no suggestion that West did not understand anything being asked of him, but we see a strange relationship building up between the pair even as increasingly horrific details about the number and nature of the crimes committed by the Wests came to light.

Written by Neil McKay and largely based on research, interviews and published accounts, it was considered a controversial by some, for focusing on someone almost tangential to the case, an accidental witness drawn in by circumstance and being a dramatisation, contained some scenes created solely for the purpose of dramatisation. With so many people involved still alive, this was perhaps a risky move and the issue of sensitivity is always a difficult one. But I’m just going to assess it on its artistic merits.

Its major coup is in the extraordinary level of its casting which was a thespy delight. Oscar nominee Emily Watson is fantastic as the over-pressured Janet, seeking an escape from the drudgery of her home life and finding an unexpected release in the importance of her role in gaining the trust of West and encouraging him to reveal details of his victims. Dominic West’s physical transformation into the highly disturbed Fred is a disquieting one, the contradictions in his character blended into a portrayal that is hard to watch in the best way. With Dolan giving nightmares as Rose, Appropriate Adult really is a chilling look at evil acts and glimpses of those that perpetrate them. 

With the splendid Sylvestra Le Touzel alongside Robert Glenister and Samuel Roukin as the key police personnel involved, the investigative and interview scenes are remarkably tense and well-acted, Rupert Simonian – a young actor to watch – brings a bright-eyed intelligence to Janet’s long-suffering son and with Stanley Townsend and Gerard Horan also kicking around in the supporting cast, it really is a quality job from top to bottom and though at times most disturbing, it would rank as a complete must-see with me.

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