IF BEING a bit different, a bit strange, a bit eccentric - even a bit weird - when measured against the yardstick by which society measures so-called normality were crimes, half the population would probably be doing 20-to-life.
The innocent man at the centre of writer Peter Morgan and director Roger Michell’s superb but saddening two-part fact-based drama The Lost Honour of Christopher
Jefferies, which concludes tonight, fulfilled all of the above criteria, and then some.
Back in 2010, Jefferies, a 65-year-old retired English teacher, brilliantly played by the 48-year-old Jason Watkins in a portrayal that stakes a late claim to being the best male dramatic television performance of 2014, was arrested by the Bristol police and grilled for three days over the murder of one of his tenants, 25-year-old landscape gardener Joanna Yeates.
It’s giving nothing away about tonight’s episode to say that Jefferies was released without charge (the details of the whole shocking business are a click away on the internet). Another of his tenants, a Dutchman called Vincent Tabak, confessed to the murder three weeks later.
By that point, Jefferies had been humiliated by the cops, who didn’t have so much as a single sliver of circumstantial evidence to work with, and roasted alive on a daily basis by the newspapers (not just the sensationalist tabloids, either; the ‘respectable’ broadsheets joined in the fun) and the 24-hour rolling news channels in a disgraceful display of trial, conviction and virtual hanging by the media that defies belief.
In an era when intelligence and learning are sneered at and stupidity and ignorance are celebrated, Jefferies ticked all the wrong boxes. He was posh and eloquent and a bit effeminate, and he spoke in the kind of fruity, flamboyant manner you don’t normally hear outside of the Royal Shakespeare Company, stretching his vowels out like chewing gum until they’re at the point of snapping.
He used words like “volunteered” when most people would use “said”. He also
favoured polo neck sweaters . . . Jesus Christ, I’m wearing one at the moment! Does that mean I’m a murder suspect?
Most damning of all, he was a little vain; he used hairspray (nothing but Elnett
extra-hold would do) to keep his silver comb-over in place, which provided another target
His grammar was proper and precise, to the point of - and this is one of the many
humorous moments peppered throughout the drama that relieve what is a blood-curdling tale - asking one of the uniformed cops sent to write down his statement if he can have his permission to correct the bad spelling.
It captures the essence of the story: that Jefferies was a naive man being mashed in the cogwheels of a cynical system he couldn’t fathom. He didn’t own a television and so wasn’t the slightest bit aware of the media storm whirling around him.
“Am I on the news?” he innocently asks his friend, a past pupil called Charles (Ben Caplan), after his release on bail.
“Christopher, there’s nothing else on the news.”
The scene where Jefferies reads what the newspapers were saying about him while he was in custody (‘Weirdo’, ‘Creepy’, ‘Peeping Tom’) is immensely powerful and moving.
A superb drama and a shaming one for anyone who works in this business.