DVD Review: Appropriate Adult

STUDIO: Inception | DIRECTOR: Julian Jarrold | CAST: Dominic West, Emily Watson, Monica Dolan, Anthony Flanagan, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Samuel Roukin
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 9/11/2012 | PRICE: DVD $26.98
SPECS: NR | 135 min. | Fact-based drama | 1.77:1 widescreen | Stereo 2.0

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

The 2011 British television film drama Appropriate Adult is based on the true story of Gloucester serial killer Fred West who, along with his wife Rosemary, tortured, raped and murdered at least 11 young women and girls over the course of eight years in the 1970s. The film focuses on the Wests’ arrests in 1994 and Fred’s chillingly “friendly” relationship with housewife Janet Leach, a Gloucester housewife who volunteered to be his “appropriate adult”—a person “assists” adults facing criminal charges and sits in during the investigation and suspect interrogation.

Appropriate Adult movie scene

Dominic West gets dangerously into the head of Emily Watson in Appropriate Adult.

According to the film, West (an outstanding Dominic West, best known as for his leading role on HBO’s The Wire) began to view Janiet as his confidante and often disclosed unknown facts to her about the nature of the crimes he admits he has committed. That he did this even as he was deliberately misleading the investiatging officers really takes its toll on gentle, mother-of-five Janet (Emily Watson, War Horse), who ultimately fainted in court as she when she was called to testify during his murder trial.

The material is powerful and it’s served up with blunt clarity by director Julian Jarrold and his two leading players. Dominic West is particularly effective, offering a brutish and rough-voiced but strangely attractive portrayal of the psychotic Fred West. His measured flattery and “confessions” to Janet give her the impression that he “likes” her, and she falls deeper and deeper under his spell, even as the violence and brutality of Fred’s crimes are revealed. The power of Fred’s seduction comes to a head near the end as the investigation comes to an end and an advocate plainly states to Janet that she was “completely irrelevant” to the man she has befriended. Dominic West well-crafted performance brilliantly speaks to the cult of personality that serial killers are said to exude.

Though Appropriate Adult was received controversially upon its premiere, it won the award for Best Single Drama at the Broadcast Awards in London, and Watson and West went on to bring home the Best Actress and Best Actor honor at the 2012 BAFTA Television Awards.

That said, Appropriate Adult remains a seriously tough drama based on a disturbingly true story. The performances and overall production deserve all the kudos they’ve been receiving, but that doesn’t make it a film for everyone. Approach this one with caution.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.