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A Confession: Episode 3 - Review

A Confession

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

JEFF Pope’s A Confession delivered its most telling episode to date at its midway point: a well realised mix of pain, sorrow and anger.

The pain came from the victims’ families, as every suspicion was confirmed: Sian O’Callaghan was, indeed, dead, killed by cab driver Christopher Halliwell (Joe Absolom). But she wasn’t his only victim. Having decided to offer Det Supt Steve Fulcher (Martin Freeman) a confession, he promptly added: “Do you want another?”

And so, with that telling question, we arrived at the pivotal moment in Pope’s drama: the decision by Fulcher to allow Halliwell to lead him and the police to the grave of a second victim, that of Becky Godden-Edwards.

In doing so, Fulcher broke a rule. He opted not to take Halliwell to the police station and charge him with Sian’s murder, thereby also denying his request to speak to a lawyer. It was a decision that marked the beginning of the end of his police career. And yet, it also brought closure to the Godden family.

Pope’s screenplay is nuanced, thoughtful and respectful. It doesn’t guide the audience. It doesn’t go for obvious clichés. The tears are earned, born from meticulous research and measured performances. The anger stems from the facts as they are revealed.

As he did with Philomena, Pope places character front and centre, while also wading into the complexity of the emotions at play. And he gives his actors plenty to work with.

Freeman’s Fulcher, for example, feels everything. You can sense his pain and torment at not being able to save Sian, especially when it emerged that the dumping of the body took place on the same night his police tail lost Halliwell. And yet, he manfully set aside his anger and frustration in order to keep a clear focus: he indulged Halliwell and even treated him with compassion.

But then Absolom’s Halliwell isn’t portrayed as some kind of pantomime villain, either. There are nuances. Without ever wanting to make him appear sympathetic, Absolom probes his own psychology… there’s outrage at a perceived sickness, as well as sorrow about the act itself. There’s delusion, as he grapples with the potential to ‘do the right thing’ in the vague hope a confession might lead to community service.

The confession itself was rivetingly done, albeit condensed to 20 minutes, as opposed to the reported four hours it lasted in real life. But director Paul Andrew Williams also deserves credit for letting it play out naturally – no flashy direction, no overly dramatic music. There’s a sense of grim inevitability to it. But Williams gives his actors the room they need to flesh out these complex characters.

Confession achieved, Pope’s screenplay then divides its time between the reaction of the families to the news and Halliwell’s subsequent decision to offer ‘no comment’ to the investigators once he has taken legal counsel.

The former is as emotionally devastating as it should be: angry, pained and yet somehow also quietly heroic. Sian’s dad shakes Fulcher’s hand and thanks him for finding his daughter. Her boyfriend holds her hand during the identification.

The sense of loss that permeates this episode is immense. And rightly so.

The latter is as maddening, too, as it should be. As the legal process takes hold, the ramifications of Fulcher’s decision become clear. The case won’t be closed easily. Further evidence will have to be found. Any shred of understanding or appreciation we had for Halliwell is quickly dispelled. A new persona emerges… one that deserves the harshest sentence the justice system can provide… if Fulcher and his team can assemble that evidence in time.

The emotional toll is already beginning to tell on Fulcher. He looks concerned, as do his colleagues. It’s a desperate situation… and one that serves to highlight the inadequacy of aspects of our law. And therein lies the anger.

By the episode’s end, when the mother of Becky Godden is given the news she has dreaded receiving for years, she lets out a blood-curdling scream, before the screen fades to black. It’s a scream that expertly gives voice to everyone who has been watching.

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