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A Confession - Final episode and series review

A Confession

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 ouf ot 5

FOR six weeks, ITV drama A Confession has kept us riveted with its dramatization of one of the most gripping and heart-breaking real-life crimes of recent years. Its finale brought closure of sorts for everyone concerned while continuing to pose questions for the future of law enforcement and the treatment of suspects.

Jeff Pope’s screenplay remained sensitive, articulate and intelligent to the end, offering raw insight into the lasting effects of grief and the devastating impact crime has on its victims. But it also offered an absorbing examination of the British legal system, ending with the question on everyone’s lips: do suspects have more rights than victims?

The moral conundrum at the heart of the show took place during the investigation of the disappearance of 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan in 2011, as led by former Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher.

Upon identifying taxi driver Christopher Halliwell as the primary suspect in the case, Fulcher took Halliwell to a wood to try and coax a confession from him, mindful of the fact that the presence of a lawyer might make him remain quiet, and thereby ending any faint hope of finding Sian alive.

Halliwell eventually confessed but then asked: “Do you want another one?” He subsequently led police to the body of Becky Godden-Edwards (also known as Rebecca Godden), who was 20 when she was reported missing in 2007. In the same interview, Halliwell confessed to her murder.

But once taken to the police station and charged with both offences, Halliwell changed his mind and via various legal wranglings, succeeded in making his confession for Godden’s murder inadmissible in court.

A complaint was then made against Fulcher by Becky’s father, John, which resulted in a disciplinary hearing and Fulcher being found guilty of gross misconduct for breaching Code C of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), which protects the rights of individuals during questioning and detention.

He was also reprimanded for speaking to a journalist about details surrounding the case and eventually resigned from the police force, losing his career.

At the start of the sixth and final episode of A Confession, Fulcher was in Benghazi, teaching security techniques, after being unable to secure work in the UK. But he was persuaded to come home and testify against Halliwell when ‘new’ evidence and a more determined approach by the Crown Prosecution Service succeeded in securing a new trial in which Halliwell is finally accused and convicted of the murder of Godden-Edwards.

The ensuing courtroom scenes were gripping and often defied belief, especially in the way that Halliwell attempted to conduct his own defence.

But the most striking thing about the episode was the sense of relief it brought to everyone concerned, as well as the continued sense of loss. Throughout the series, Pope’s screenplay and Paul Andrew Williams’ documentary-style direction have been careful to be respectful to the victims, both alive and dead.

Hence, police procedure worked hand-in-hand with people’s lives and feelings. Grief was examined. It didn’t stop. There were no conveniently happy endings. The mothers of the murdered girls never met properly. Life went on, perhaps cruelly, and some mistakes were made. But the fallout from the murders was evident.

And so did those questions regarding the law. In real life, Fulcher remains convinced that Halliwell murdered more women, despite the reluctance of the police to open any new lines of inquiry. The mother of Godden-Edwards continues to campaign for a change in the law regarding PACE.

What A Confession did, so brilliantly, was put the story and its issues back in the spotlight. And deservedly so.

We were as enraged by the story as we were moved to tears by it. For that, both Pope and Williams deserve huge credit. But the performances, too, were uniformly excellent, with Martin Freeman (as Fulcher), Joe Absolom (as Halliwell), Siobhan Finneran (as Elaine O’Callaghan, Sian’s mother) and Imelda Staunton (as Karen Edwards, Rebecca’s mum) particularly outstanding.

The acting throughout was first-rate: never showy, always restrained. It led to many poignant moments, when emotions were stripped to their rawest form. But they also remained true, examining the complexities of those same emotions at play.

A Succession was therefore a sobering, thought-provoking drama that refused to offer easy answers while allowing the facts to speak for themselves. It will go down as a classic piece of television and one of the year’s greatest hits.

Read our verdict on episode three