Masterpiece Contemporary: Place of Execution

Masterpiece Contemporary: Place of Execution

Sun, 11/01/2009 - 9:00pm

Pictured (l-r): DI George Bennett (Lee Ingleby) and Old George Bennett (Philip Jackson).

Credit: ITV plc for MASTERPIECE

A TV journalist questions the presumed murder of a 13-year girl who disappeared forty years ago.

Juliet Stevenson (Bend It Like Beckham, “The Politician’s Wife”) stars as a journalist trying to crack a four-decade-old case of a missing girl in Place of Execution, based on the psychological thriller by best-selling Scottish novelist Val McDermid (Wire in the Blood). The two-part drama airs on Masterpiece Contemporary, Sundays, November 1 from 9 - 10:30 p.m., and November 8 from 9 -10 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable1011/cable11). David Tennant hosts.

Stevenson plays filmmaker Catherine Heathcote, a single mother and workaholic who throws herself into a documentary about a respected high-level police official, George Bennett, whose career took off 45 years earlier with his first big case: the disappearance and presumed murder of 13-year-old Alison Carter in the village of Scardale in north England. Although Bennett got a conviction, Alison’s body was never found.

In an eerily beautiful drama interspersed with flashbacks to the early 1960s, Lee Ingleby (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) plays the intense young Bennett, with Philip Jackson (“Poirot”) as the mellower older man, who abruptly and uncharacteristically pulls out of Catherine’s project. His only explanation: “Mistakes were made.”

Also appearing are Greg Wise (“Cranford”) as Philip Hawkin, Alison’s haughty stepfather; Tony Maudsley (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) as Tommy Clough, Bennett’s garrulous sergeant; and Elizabeth Day as Sasha, Catherine’s rebellious teenage daughter, who wants nothing to do with her mother, but irresistibly succumbs to the fascination of this unsolved crime.

The deeper Catherine digs into the Alison Carter case, the more disturbing it appears. Two suspects turned up early in the investigation: Alison’s schoolmate Charlie Lomas (Mikey North), who had a secret cache of photos of her but no apparent connection to her disappearance; and Alison’s uncle Simon (Ryan Anthony-Jones), a known sexual offender. Briefly detained by the police, he died of exposure shortly after his release — an apparent suicide.

Most troubling are the villagers of Scardale, a close-mouthed clan who, until late in the investigation, withheld key information such as the local mine that was a likely hiding place for evidence and a suspicious sighting of Hawkin near the place where his stepdaughter vanished.

Then there is the behavior of Bennett, who by all accounts was a little too eager to wrap up the case. Did he cut corners to reach a solution? Did he, as Catherine begins to suspect, fabricate evidence? Is his sudden silence, 45 years later, an admission of guilt? And could he be behind the torching of the warehouse where evidence of the crime was stored, including shocking photographs of Alison?

As Catherine begins to grasp the long-held secrets of Scardale, her quest not only turns the Alison Carter case upside down, but it begins to make sense of the tormented journalist’s own troubled past.

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