Pierrepoint – the last hangman
Pierrepoint is an interesting film, Directed by Adrian Shergold, who cut his teeth with the British television industry and was responsible for The Second Coming, the 2003 production with Christopher Eccleston.
Interesting, also, that Albert Pierrepoint was not the last hangman in the UK, as he retired in the mid-fifties, although the last executions were carried out in 1964.
Grisly subject for a movie, you might think, and of course it is. A grisly subject altogether, and rather embarrassing that a so-called civilized nation left it so late in the day to abandon such a barbarous practice. (There is a world map showing the status of the death penalty in different countries – who got rid of it and who still thinks they can’t live without it.)
Albert Pierrepoint is played by Timothy Spall and his wife, Annie, by the excellent Juliet Stevenson, currently two of the most talented British actors on the scene. To cast them together was an inspiration.
The film looks at the social and moral problems of this couple. Because Albert Pierrepoint, whatever you may think of him, is a success at his chosen profession. He wants to be good at his job and spends not a little time and effort in making sure that he can take a pride in his work. Annie supports him, because she is a good wife. The side-issues of guilt and paranoia only slowly, insidiously, make themselves felt as they corrode the inner lives of the couple.
Watching this film I was soon emotionally engaged and continually conflicted. By the end of the ninety minutes my mouth was dry and I was drained by the inability of the protagonists to see their own complicity in the dismantling of their sensibilities and their own utter and total alienation.
Pierrepoint personally hanged hundreds of condemned prisoners during twenty years in the job.
I leave Albert Pierrepoint outside when I enter the condemned man’s cell, he said. And there is a moment towards the end of the film when he stops eating during a meal with his wife, something unrecognisable on the end of his fork. He gazes out, beyond the camera, and for a snatch of time we see that he is not there. Pierrepoint, the man, has left himself somewhere else, his identity has been obliterated by the demands of his profession.
It did not deter them then and it had not deterred them when they committed what they were convicted for. All the men and women I have faced at that final moment convince me that in what I have done I have not prevented a single murder. I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge. Albert Pierrepoint.