Friday Night Movie Number 87 – Pierrepoint


A very good biopic of one of Britain’s most famous and prolific executioners Albert Pierrepoint, who oversaw the executions of some of the UK’s most notorious criminals along with many of the German war criminals, most notably the Beasts of Belsen.

It’s a sensitive portrayal of a man trying to do his best to dispassionately and humanely despatch those whom the courts had declared guilty of murder or as in the case of the staff at the Belsen concentration camp, mass murder. Timothy Spall is excellent as Pierrepoint and plays his part ery well. Eddie Marsan, an actor who I’ve admired for a while now, cuts a suitably pathetic figure as ‘Tish’ the friend of Pierrepoint whom Pierrpoint has to hang after Tish was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend.

This film does contain a lot of execution scenes but they are done sensitively and they show just why Albert Pierrpoint was respected as one of the best hangmen Britain has ever produced. He did his best to reduce the suffering of those he was tasked with executing and could take a prisoner from being alive to being dead at the end of the rope in an astonishing 7.5 seconds.

The film does have an abolitionist tinge to it, but that may be due to the funders of this film, UK Film Council and The National Lottery organisations I suspect which are very much dominated by members of the anti-capital punishment liberal Left. Apart from this bias it’s a great film and I would say it’s one of Timothy Spall’s best performances. Spall shows how Pierrepoint became conflicted as to whether capital punishment was effective and how the need to execute so many German war criminals so quickly did have a psychological effect on him.

Pierrepoint was not a cruel man, but instead a normal man doing abnormal things as a sideline  He was a grocer and publican during the times when he wasn’t doing executions, and also undertaking a difficult and very stressful duty for society. This is an excellent film about a very interesting recent historical character and it is a film that I found both moving and fascinating.