The Interrogation of Tony Martin review: The shock ending surpasses anything from Inside No 9

Steve Pemberton is cast as the Norfolk farmer who, in 1999, shot two intruders in his home

Gerard Gilbert
Saturday 17 November 2018 16:24
Comments
Steve Pemberton in 'The Interrogation of Tony Martin'
Steve Pemberton in 'The Interrogation of Tony Martin'

Steve Pemberton came to prominence as a member of The League of Gentlemen, but has since made four series (and one recent live episode) of the justly acclaimed Inside No 9 with fellow Leaguer Reece Shearsmith. Inside No. 9 is a sort of blackly comic version of Tales of the Unexpected, each episode relying on a shock twist at the end, but none has been as startling as the coda to Channel 4’s The Interrogation of Tony Martin.

I’ll come to that later in case readers haven’t yet watched this real-crime drama, although I note that some spoilsport TV previewers gave the game away before transmission. A shame, because it’s a real coup de théâtre.

Pemberton is cast as Martin, the Norfolk farmer who, in 1999, became a cause celebre in certain tough-on-crime quarters after firing his (illegal) pump-action shotgun at two intruders in his aptly named home, Bleak House, killing one of them: the 16-year-old Fred Barras. Martin, a loner with wig-like hair and a habit of booby-trapping his oft-burgled farmhouse, is a bona fide eccentric who could almost have stepped straight out of Inside No 9.

Except that Martin is a real and very strange person, and what calls itself a “verbatim drama” has its every word of dialogue taken from the police interviews that followed his arrest. Obviously, the 600-odd pages of transcript were pared into dramatic shape by writer David Nath, but they prove as compelling as any of the extended interrogation scenes in Line of Duty. Indeed, fans of Jed Mercurio’s BBC cop show will have relished seeing Daniel Mays, whose Line of Duty character was on the receiving end of such questioning, playing one of the detectives.

Keeping the action, such as it is, in the room makes for a novel form of drama, but none the less gripping for that. Indeed, the current glut of real-crime documentaries making use of police-interview footage (BBC3’s recent Car Crash: Who’s Lying? was a particularly good example) have all been leading to something like this.

As in any good drama, sympathies shift as fresh evidence comes to light, Martin the fearful homeowner gradually morphing into a paranoid vigilante whose exceeding of reasonable force leads to the death of a teenager; a serial thief, no doubt, but palpably not deserving of the death penalty.

The scene where Martin is finally charged with murder is skilfully done. A phalanx of officers crowd around him as if to block off any escape route as the charge is read out, and if the drama had ended there it would have simply been a very fine reenactment. What follows, however, puts it into a different league.

We see Martin from the back as he approaches his now boarded up farmhouse for the first time since the fatal night in 1999, expecting for him to turn and be revealed as Pemberton in character. It is, in fact, the real Tony Martin, having agreed to cooperate with the production – whether wisely or not will depend on viewers’ taste for vigilantism.

Martin, a lot tougher in reality than Pemberton’s characterisation (although that might just be the experience of prison) explains how he’d be willing to do the same again if necessary. “You’ve got to stand your ground”, he says, and it’s why he no longer lives at Bleak House, he adds, for fear of being locked up again for shooting any future intruders. Does Fred Barras’s death weigh heavily on him? “I don’t even think about it”, he answers before embarking on a chilling anecdote about a young housebreaker he met in prison and whom he pretended to shoot with his fingers. He might just have shot himself in the foot instead.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in