Appropriate Adult (2011) Disturbs and Mesmerizes
Relentlessly somber and totally bereft of humor, Appropriate Adult is, nevertheless, a fascinating study of the odd relationship between two people: Janet Leach (Emily Watson), a housewife, mother, and social work student, and Fred West (Dominic West), a cold-blooded serial killer who murdered at least twelve girls (with the enthusiastic assistance of his wife [Monica Dolan]) over a period of 20 years.
In the mid -1990s, Janet volunteered to be an “appropriate adult,” an advocate to advise and represent “vulnerable” victims throughout interrogations, investigation, and court proceedings. Her first case was that of a Gloucester serial killer who calmly detailed how he murdered his daughter, cut her body into four pieces, and buried her in the back yard. Janet is horrified—even more so when Fred admits to her that the cops will find more than just one body when they dig up his yard. Janet is bound by confidence and cannot share this and future admissions from Fred.
Janet convinces Fred to confess to his attorney and the police, which begins a relationship that weighs heavy on the conscience-stricken Janet who is revolted by Fred’s crimes, yet committed to her duties as an appropriate adult. In his twisted way, Fred tries to manipulate and emotionally seduce Janet who internalizes the conflict, becoming increasingly depressed and anxious.
The intensity of the performances of the entire cast distinguishes Appropriate Adult. Murders are not re-enacted; this is a story of the aftermath of the crimes—investigation, trial, and suffering. Some viewers will find Fred West oddly likable, despite the horror he inflicted. More interesting is the evolution of Janet Leach—at first a blank canvas—who must balance her home life while becoming increasingly drawn into Fred West’s nasty confidence.
Janet Leach and Fred and Rosemary West were real people, and Appropriate Adult is reportedly based on extensive interviews and research, peppered with some dramatization. It was produced by ITV as a two-part program for British television and won three BAFTA awards: Dominic West, Leading Actor; Emily Watson, Leading Actress; and Monica Dolan, supporting actress. Additionally, Watson was nominated for both a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for her role as Janet Leach. Appropriate Adult is now available on DVD and digital.