The British legal system has something called the “appropriate adult”. This is a volunteer who's brought in to observe interrogations when a suspect is deemed incapable of looking out for their own interests, either through some learning disability or other mental handicap. At the beginning of ITV's two-part fact-based drama, Janet Leach (Emily Watson), a trainee social worker, is called in to assist with an unnamed 52-year-old man. Although she's taken the training, she's never actually attended an interrogation before.
As she sits to one side of the small interview room, Detective Constable Hazel Savage (Sylvestra Le Touzel) begins the questioning and the suspect launches into a calm, strangely detached account of killing his teenaged daughter Heather, dismembering her body and burying it in his back yard. Director Julian Jarrold plays the scene mostly off Emily Watson's reactions and we watch as the foundations of everything this ordinary woman believes about the world are stripped away. After the session, the concerned police officer asks if she wants to continue or withdraw, but Janet insists that she's up to the task.
Her decision is obviously partly rooted in her desire not to appear weak, but as the story progresses something else emerges, her shock and disgust mixed with a strange fascination. The man who comes to insist that they are “friends” is Fred West who, along with his wife Rosemary, was exposed in the mid-'90s as one of Britain's worst serial killers. Together they were accused of murdering at least 12 young women, mostly during the '70s, but there may have been many more.
Although the facts of the well-documented case are even more sordid and disturbing than what is depicted here, the script by producer Neil McKay is concerned with something other than a sensational account of a “true crime”. The presence of Janet Leach not only offers a unique point of view into the character of Fred West, but also provides an illustration of how the psychopath manipulates, influences and eventually takes control of an unguarded mind, in the process making it comprehensible how his wife Rose (an absolutely chilling performance by Monica Dolan) could have become an active and willing collaborator in his sadistic crimes.