1 9 7 0 (UK)
6 x 54 minute episodes
This drama series from London Weekend Television was based on true-life cases of women who made the headlines of Victorian newspapers. The six episodes aired as part of Sunday Night Theatre (1969 – 1971), a compendium of dramas produced for ITV by a variety of companies.
Alice Rhodes | Christiana Edmunds | Augusta Fullam | Anne-Maria Moody | Florence Maybrick | Madeleine July
Alice Rhodes (Joanna Dunham) provided her lover with a wealthy wife and then arranged that wife’s death from malnutrition, neglect and ill-treatment as Alice systematically starved dull-witted and plain Harriet (Gillian Raine) to death in an attic. The story was an unpleasant one, made far worse by a good deal of gloating over the poor woman’s scabs and excrement, and a flip application of sexual sadism.
The cool beauty of the murderess, her wish to make love after her visits to the attic to whip her victim, and the amount of hovering camera work made this an unattractive stomach-turning hour. Di Seaney was disturbingly convincing in the small but very important role of the callous maidservant Clare.
This story of Christiana Edmunds (Anna Massey), a mad girl with father fixations and a strong line in nymphomania who was prepared to murder at random to gain the love of a handsome doctor. The case made headlines in the heatwave summer of 1870.
The episode was well-constructed and enjoyably harrowing as it looked behind the genteel facade of a seemingly respectable house in Brighton where the young Christiana was kept virtually a prisoner by her feeble mother and the tyrant housekeeper, Mrs Boding (Sonia Dresdel).
Escaping briefly, the girl lights on the handsome Dr Beard (Richard Gale) and instantly conceives an obsessive passion for him. She attempts to poison his wife, succeeds in poisoning twelve other people, and breaks her pet spaniel’s leg.
Charles Lloyd Pack
Played by Vivien Merchant, Augusta Fullam is the shy, reserved, Anglo-Indian wife of a government official in Imperial India at the turn of the 20th century. They live in a tight little expatriate British society, as enclosed as a village in which everybody knows everybody else’s business.
“In London, lovers are all the rage,” remarks one of the mem-sahibs.
The touch of envy does not make the ladies less resentful of the man who steps out of line, the incorrigible womaniser Dr Harry Clark (Edward De Souza). They primly agree that he must be taught a lesson, and Augusta is chosen to give it. But it is a plan that badly misfires.
Dr Harry Clark
Edward De Souza
Anne-Maria Moody (Jane Asher) is the young and passionate mistress of Major Murray (William Lucas) – a cold, mean, humourless man. Plunged hopelessly into debt by her desires and extravagance, she turns in desperation to a money-lender who soon becomes infatuated with his flirtatious client.
Seeing a chance of happiness with the moneylender’s attractive son, Anne-Maria persuades the usurer to murder her protector, Major Murray. But one of those cruel, ironic twists of fate cheats her of everything she longs for.
Major William Murray
The fifth in this series of plays concerns 20-year-old Florence Maybrick (Nicola Pagett). Lost, lonely and frightened, Florrie is a bride of only a few months, bound to a man twice her age.
James Maybrick (John Carson), already an adulterer, flaunts his escapades in his young wife’s face, knowing that the drunken orgies revolt her.
Revulsion, fear and terror drive her to a desperate solution as she slowly poisons James, watching him – as he dies a slow, agonised death – with a smile on her face.
She may have got away with it but for a lesbian-inclined housekeeper (Ingrid Hafner) whose affections are spurned by Florence and whose personal revenge is to send for the police.
Madeleine July (Billie Whitelaw) is a failed French showgirl and part-time trollop who is offered security and marriage by an innocent and virgin butcher. She takes it and finds she quite likes him.
Her life is ruined when her former lover returns and seduces her. Subsequently, as she resists her husband’s first advances, on the grounds that the time is wrong, she accidentally kills him.
Regaining her composure she convinces judge and jury that the lover had done it out of revenge, and escapes with her life and her husband’s inheritance.
The disposal of Madeleine’s husband was beautifully handled, and ended with a chilling moment as the body – on the point of being covered in sand – suddenly opened its eyes and moved. Madeleine, with a strangled cry of “Oh no”, stopped for a moment, and then carried on burying the man until he was underneath a solid layer of concrete.