Posted: 10/26/2009


Place of Execution

by Del Harvey

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One of the best edge-of-your-seat television mysteries this season, Place of Execution premieres on Masterpiece Mystery! November 1-8, 2009.

In 1963 a 13-year-old girl vanished without trace - the mystery was never solved. More than 40 years later, the events surrounding the disappearance and the hunt for the killer resurface when a high-flying TV journalist makes a documentary about the case.

On a freezing December night in 1963, the worst kind of fear strikes the secluded Northumberland hamlet of Scardale. A 13-year-old girl has vanished without a trace. Against all their instincts, the tight-knit residents must ask the outside world for help.

More than 40 years later, the dramatic events surrounding the girl’s disappearance and the hunt for her killer resurface when a high-flying TV journalist makes a documentary about the case. But what she finds will shatter the past – and the lives of everyone involved.

Juliet Stevenson, Lee Ingleby and Greg Wise star in Place of Execution, a taut psychological thriller from Coastal Productions, makers of Wire in the Blood. Adapted by acclaimed scriptwriter Patrick Harbinson from the best-selling novel by Val McDermid, the three-part drama is set in the present day with flashbacks to the 1960s. It co-stars Tony Maudsley, Philip Jackson, Emma Cunniffe and Sheila Reid.

Catherine Heathcote (Juliet Stevenson) is putting the finishing touches to a documentary about schoolgirl Alison Carter, who walked out of her home on an ordinary afternoon in 1963 and was never seen again.

Her film focuses on George Bennett (Lee Ingleby), a young Detective Inspector who made his name on the investigation – a case that gripped the country. It also delves into the secretive lives of Alison’s mother Ruth (Emma Cunniffe), stepfather Hawkin (Greg Wise) and the residents of the tight-knit village of Scardale.

Catherine’s story seems simple – courageous George stood up to a hostile village as he pieced together every clue and interrogated every suspect to bring Alison’s killer to justice. But the straightforward case of crime and punishment soon becomes a mystery in which nothing is certain. With no sign of Alison or her body, can it ever be fully resolved?

As the film is edited, George (Philip Jackson), now retired but still haunted by the case, decides to withdraw his co-operation without explanation. Determined to get some answers, Catherine, accompanied by her rebellious 14-year-old daughter Sasha (Elizabeth Day), heads north to confront him.

However, as Catherine retraces Alison’s final steps in Scardale, nothing can prepare her for the shocking revelations kept hidden for years about the missing girl and the subsequent execution. Amid terror and suspicion, broken families and mounting pressure for answers, was George really the hero of the hour?

Check local listings for showtimes.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.

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