Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Britain's ITV has broadcast a take on the story from an "appropriate" point of view. Appropriate Adult is an example of how you do Fred and Rose on TV without offending 99% of your audience. A truly literal movie would be closer to Tim Roth's The War Game mixed with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deep Crimson, and Serbian Film. You'd also need to weave in some of the most extreme Euro porn from the 70's such as Kilroy Was Here (one of Fred's favorites) and the German Violence and Slave Sex series. I'd also suggest, just for tone, you toss in some live action 'Antoine Bernhard' (look him up on this blog). In today's tender market, where something like Serbian Film is being banned and cut around the world, a graphic tale of Fred and Rose West is likely to remain the untold story.
Although there are some visits to the house where Fred and Rose lived, loved, raped and murdered, this TV movie is mostly set in a police station and prison. Although it's quite talky, it's never less than fascinating in its limited way because West (played with enormous subtlety by Dominic West) is a compelling character, a man of contradictions who elicits both sympathy (at times) and hatred. We get to see the charmer who managed to charm the pants off the women he ultimately raped and killed. And, although it's not covered in this extremely abbreviated version of almost thirty years of mind-boggling events, West also charmed the police into believing that accusations and suspicions thrown at him were a bunch of hysterical hogwash. He was accused of raping and kidnapping years before close to a dozen charges finally stuck, but he always weaseled his way out of anything serious and happily carried on as a devoted husband to Rose and father to a brood of children whose numbers he was personally reducing in his basement.
Naturally, Appropriate Adult soft pedals Fred's true nature to easily offended TV viewers, so a rather distorted, milky picture of him emerges. The truth is, he raped his daughter Heather for most of her lifetime, and would accuse her of being a lesbian when she attempted to reject his advances. Heather's body was also shared by Fred with his brother John, who happily took Fred's rape baton. He was eventually charged. The majority of Fred's children were sexually abused or forced to witness the abuse that was commonplace in the West household, a household that was closer to a Sadean brothel than a home sweet home. Fred was also obsessed with corpses and raped his way through the ones he created, often playing with and souveniring body parts. Because none of this is covered in Appropriate Adult "(Don't mention the war or the corpses!") , the picture we get of the man is extremely controlled and not a little inaccurate. What service such sanitization of character provides is a little uncertain to me, and this is where I found Appropriate Adult problematic.
If you want to tell a story about a shocking crime, is it appropriate to underplay the shocking aspects of that crime when it is the shocking aspects (and their implications) that made it notorious, and extraordinary, in the first place? To me, it's a little like having your cake and eating it, too -- you exploit the public's hunger for horror to reel them in, but you refuse to indulge their appetite for it when you've got them in your hand. It's the old bait and switch. I know the commercial reasons for it, but commercial reasons for anything have nothing to do with what may be right.
Because I know the Fred and Rose story inside out, I felt a bit cheated by the Fred and Rose Lite we get here. Although Dominic West (playing Fred) and Monica Dolan (chilling as Rose) are totally convincing, and, yes, the production is a handsome and well written one, I wanted to see so much more, especially how Fred and Rose interacted as a couple before they were imprisoned and separated. That, to me, is what's interesting. But there is little here of that 'Evil Love', that special connection, that inseparable partnership in which they experienced crazy love as husband and wife, parents, killers, rapists, and sexual adventurers. What kind of love survives that? What kind of love is strengthened by that? That's what's truly fascinating. That's the untold story so far.