PIERREPOINT: THE LAST HANGMAN (Adrian Shergold). 90 minutes. Opens Friday (June 15). Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Based on a true story, Pierrepoint is a sombre yet compelling portrait of a decent, hard-working man slowly undone by his very dirty job.
Albert Pierrepoint (Timothy Spall) delivers groceries for a living. He and a pal sing in the local pub. And he can tell just by looking at a man how much rope he needs to hang him so death is as quick and painless as possible.
Like his father and grandfather before him, Pierrepoint is a proper English executioner who sets about the task of hanging condemned criminals - some 608 between 1934 and 1956 - with painstaking care and meticulous attention to detail.
He takes pride in his work, which is done anonymously. Untroubled by his grisly profession, he sleeps soundly at night. His adoring wife (Juliet Stevenson), suspicious of what her husband does on his business trips, does not.
His secret comes out when he's chosen by the British military to execute Nazi war criminals, including the infamous Butcher of Belsen, and becomes a national hero. But celebrity doesn't sit comfortably with Pierrepoint.
Spall strikes just the right note as a good man trying to cope with fame he never expected or asked for and the sheer number of people he's killed.