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The Widower: Reece Shearsmith’s performance will be one of the year’s best
In the final part of the ITV drama, based real events, the murderous lies peddled by Malcolm Webster (Reece Shearsmith) to women for fifteen years become his shackles.
Reece Shearsmith has been outstanding in translating a sociopath, whose murder of Claire Morris was described as ‘cold blooded, brutal and callous’ by sentencing judge Lord Bannatyne, into a credible monster.
What didn't work
The small flashes of remorse exhibited by Webster were clearly nothing more than a device to ask the audience if he really had changed. Of course, he hadn't.
A glorious metaphor opened this final chapter of Webster’s criminal career, as we found him fishing in solitude. There is no better pastime to sum up Webster’s life than one where ‘the one that got away’ is a cliché of tall tales and stories not to be believed.
But there’s a quiet depth to it, too; as Webster also used a hook to catch his victims after deploying a lure to bring them close to striking distance. And, with that, their death. Those shiny lures also transfixed him, as it was his pervasive greed which eventually led to his downfall.
Where this three-part drama has excelled is capturing the mudanity of his evil, the workmanlike cycle of charming, drugging, and then murdering his victims. How well Shearsmith’s body language has expressed the tiresome chore Webster finds playing his own game, willing each victim to die sooner and angered by their selfish obliviousness to his desire. This depiction was in keeping with Lord Bannatyne’s description of him having ‘no remorse’ and his motivation being ‘the utterly base one of financial gain’. There is little to understand in a man of such nature and little reason to offer half-hearted suggestions.
"Where this three-part drama has excelled is capturing the mudanity of his evil"
There were, however, a couple of moments where the script sailed perilously close to offering minor redemption, especially in the scene where Webster threw his beloved drugs onto a fire. This rejection of his chemical stooges pointed towards a fundamental change in character, when really the scene was a transparent attempt to artificially ramp up tension. It really didn’t need it – here was a man preparing to kill another woman while under the close scrutiny of the police. That alone is enough tension to keep a dreadnought moored.
That this didn’t end with a showdown on a rain-lashed yacht during a storm or in a blistering courtroom showdown was a relief. That would have undermined the truth behind Webster’s quiet brutality and the quiet determination shown by multiple police forces to apprehend him. The wildly uncombed hair of DI Charlie Henry (John Hannah) was the most extravagant nod to their frustration. What some viewers might not believe is how Simone Banarjee (Archie Panjabi) could be so unaware of Malcolm’s intentions; and yet the real Simone found the truth ‘all so unbelievable’. That’s the nightmare to keep you awake at night – could you be duped, too?
The writing of the Oscar-nominated Jeff Pope and James Barton and direction of Paul Whittington has been superb, while Reece Shearsmith’s portrayal of this most wicked cuckoo is set for a Bafta nod.
Reece Shearsmith’s performance will be one of the year’s best
What other reviewers said
The Telegraph: "With that curious man-boy face, he has a talent for characters that exist worryingly near the boundaries of sanity, and his prissily controlling Webster was both sinister and richly dislikable."
The Independent: "It might be based on a real-life crime but The Widower still conforms to all the best conventions of genre, including the comforting certainty that the villain will eventually get his comeuppance."
What users on Twitter said
@IRaeOfSunshine - "TheWidower has been fantastic!! @ITV"
@lane_paula - "I'm completely blown away #TheWidower"
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