Pierrepoint (15)

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The Independent Culture

"I do like to take a pride in my work," says Albert Pierrepoint, a neat Lancashire yeoman who, between 1933 and 1955, became Britain's most prolific executioner - an end title informs us he chalked up more than 600 hangings. As incarnated by the great Timothy Spall, Pierrepoint is a conscientious but necessarily repressed man who tries to separate what he does from who he is, a dislocation in which his wife (Juliet Stevenson) primly colludes. The strain begins to show after the Second World War, when General Montgomery himself requests Pierrepoint's services in helping to execute Nazis in the wake of Nuremberg. Adrian Shergold adapts a Vera-Drake-style palette of drab greens and duns to suggest the puritanical bent of mid-century Britain, and falters only in the last reel. It's heavy going and rather ghoulish at times, but Spall's enactment of the struggle between duty and doubt is just about perfect.