With a string of grimy BBC adaptations like Ordeal by Innocence, The ABC Murders, and The Pale Horse, screenwriter Sarah Phelps has been busy in recent years stripping the cozy out of Agatha Christie.
However, Phelps dramatized a genuine murder in BBC One’s The Sixth Commandment that might be too sinister and bizarre even for the Queen of Crime’s imagination.
However, Maids Moreton’s location in the story seems almost eerily familiar to Christie fans. Instead of Miss Marple, Peter Farquhar, a respected retired schoolteacher, lived in this very genuine Buckinghamshire parish, and Timothy Spall portrays him with consummate skill.
The 69-year-old Farquhar has long had trouble reconciling his (chaste) homosexuality with his Christian faith.
Being profoundly alone and believing he was unlovable made him the ideal prey for predatory twenty-something psychopath Ben Field, one of Buckingham University part-time lecturer Farquhar’s students (played with frightening matter-of-factness by Éanna Hardwicke).
Field snuck into Farquhar’s home and feigned to fall in love with the older man, finally persuaded him to modify his will after becoming a warden at the neighborhood church (he was a Baptist minister’s son and knew the ropes). Then, the horrifyingly unavoidable occurred: Field killed the unaware Farquhar.
Field brought Farquhar breakfast in bed and informed him, “I’ll be waiting on you hand and foot.” Given that the younger man was busy adding sedatives, hallucinogens, and potent alcohol to Farquhar’s food and drink, it was a dreadfully foreboding phrase.
He manipulated his victim’s family members into thinking that Farquhar was acquiring alcoholism and dementia.
With delicacy, Spall captured the contrast between Farquhar’s vulnerability and academic rigor. While it was clear that this man had spent his life with no one’s help, Field had discovered his greatest vulnerability: a deep pool of loneliness.
They initially shared a bed in a scenario that was both ominous and tender. Farquhar admitted, “I’ve never had a double bed before in my entire life. I’m not looking for sex. All I want is to be held.
Ben Field is portrayed by Éanna Hardwick, and Ann Moore Martin by Anne Reid. (Image credit: BBC/Wild Mercury/Amanda Searle)
The Sixth Commandment honored the victims by being created with the full approval of their families.
The actual murder was not displayed, but it is thought that Field strangled Farquhar before photographing his body next to an empty whisky bottle.
At the very beginning, captions arose in honor of Peter Farquhar and his neighbor Ann Moore-Martin.
Moore-Martin (Anne Reid), a former head teacher who was 83 years old, was a devout Christian.
She was happy to have discovered “love” in her latter years when Field deceived her once more. She passed away in 2017 from natural causes, and Field was accused of planning to murder her.
He was cleared of all charges, but he was still given a life sentence for the murder of Farquhar the same year.
SThe families of Farquhar and Moore-Martin also played a significant part in this, with Annabel Scholey (The Split) playing Moore-Martin’s suspicious niece and Adrian Rawlins as Farquhar’s brother.
Sheila Hancock, who plays an elderly neighbor, has joined the elite cast.
Most impressive was the absence of the ominous glamour that so many true crime films commit, which is a dangerous trap. Although Field may have been overconfident in his own dominance, he was also greedy (having left a list of 100 potential victims behind, for instance) and irresponsible.
The police eventually acknowledged that he would have gotten away with murder if he hadn’t made friends with Moore-Martin.
The sixth commandment of the Bible, “Thou shalt not kill,” would leave huge gaps in TV schedulers’ programming if it were to be universally followed.
These true-crime movies may currently sell for ten cents each, but this one had a strong cast and added nothing exploitative—only chilling—to the genre.