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Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman
Pierrepoint The Last Hangman
Actors: Clive Francis, Christopher Fulford, Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson, Ian Shaw
Director: Adrian Shergold
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
R     2007     1hr 38min

Following in the footsteps of his father and uncle before him, Albert Pierrepoint (Timothy Spall) joins the 'family business'. He becomes the most feared and respected executioner in Britain, hanging over 450 people before...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Clive Francis, Christopher Fulford, Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson, Ian Shaw
Director: Adrian Shergold
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Studio: Ifc
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 10/30/2007
Original Release Date: 01/01/2007
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2007
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 1hr 38min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

A Brilliant Little Film Opens the Window to an Unknown Profe
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 12/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"PIERREPOINT: THE LAST HANGMAN is one of those films that emerges from the cracks in the theater 'failures' only to find its poignant message when released on DVD. Granted, the idea of a story based on England's most famous executioner doesn't immediately catch the interest of the general audience, but for those fortunate enough to either rent or buy this DVD, the rewards are plentiful. It is a little masterpiece of writing, acting, directing and production values.

Albert Pierrepoint was the third man in his family to 'ascend' to the list of executioners (capital punishment in England at the time was by hanging), and when he is accepted to the list in 1932 he begins what became the longest and most prolific career of British executioners. He took enormous pride in his work, assuring his peers as well as his 'victims' that every aspect of his job was done with obsessive professionalism: his timing of his duties was the shortest on record, meaning that from the moment he opened the door to the condemned prisoner's room through the hooding and noose placement and tripping of the platform and subsequent death of the 'criminal', he spared suffering as much as was feasible. He was supported by a wife who kept the secret of her husband's anonymous role and it was only when the Pierrepoint's pride in his job became known that downfall of their lives is threatened. At times adored by the public for his assignment to hand the Nazi criminals and the famous murderers and eventually the target of the anti capital punishment activists, Pierrepoint's professionalism sustained him until a final tragic assignment changed his view of his job.

Timothy Spall is splendid as Pierrepoint, capturing all of the nuances of the simple, honest man's pride as well as his Achilles' heel. Juliet Stevenson turns in yet another understated and completely realized role as Pierrepoint's wife. Director Adrian Shergold, using a script written by Bob Mills and Jeff Pope, paces the film sensitively, drawing on the atrocious duties involved in the job of executioner (they actually had to prepare the bodies of the dead victims for the morticians!) along with the moments of pub frivolity to allow the audience to understand the true person Timothy Spall absorbs in his portrayal of Pierrepoint. The sets and lighting and cinematography could not be better. This is a film to view and absorb and appreciate the superior quality of acting of Spall and Stevenson. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, December 07

Timothy Spall finally in a deserving leading role.
KerrLines | Baltimore,MD | 11/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Finally,constant supporting actor for over thirty years, Timothy Spall snares a leading role opposite the equally amazing Juliet Stevenson to bring to the screen the story of Albert Pierrepoint, the last English hangman. Pierrepoint, like his father and uncle before him was appointed Britain's Chief Executioner from 1933-1955 during which he personally oversaw 600+ hangings, including the famous Nazi War Criminal trials from Belsen Camp.He approaches every hanging as all in a day's work.His wife,masterfully embodied by Juliet Stevenson, chooses to know nothing of her husband's job.But, how long can something of this nature stay under the radar screen without it affecting them personally and as a couple? For people who like intense,well-acted films,look no farther that the noose right in front of your face! Easily one of the best acting jobs of late."
Unforgettable true life story
Roland E. Zwick | Valencia, Ca USA | 12/07/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)


Albert Pierrepoint is determined to carry on in the time-honored tradition of his family. That's why, like his father and uncle before him, Pierrepoint has trained to become one of England's premier executioners, a man who approaches his grim job with the utmost professionalism, priding himself on using scientific precision to make his hangings the quickest and most "humane" in all the world. Indeed, with his careful calibrations and emotional detachment, he manages to turn capital punishment into nothing short of an art form. So sterling is his reputation, in fact, that he is called upon by none other than Field Marshall Montgomery himself to supervise the hanging of dozens of convicted Nazi leaders after the war. This elevates Pierrepoint to something of a national celebrity in the eyes of a war-weary, revenge-crazed public, a position he neither craves for himself nor truly knows how to cope with, for it calls into question the dignity of the entire profession.

Based on a true story, "Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman" offers a fascinating glimpse into a rarely explored, though frequently reviled, profession and the type of man best fit to carry it out. Filled with insight and depth and - dare we say it? - a certain amount of "gallow's humor," the movie makes no moral judgment on Pierrepoint as a person (at least until he does so himself); for much of the film, he is simply a man doing his job to the best of his capabilities, primarily concerned with making the exit from this world as speedy and painless a one for the men and women on the other end of the rope as is humanly possible. Pierrepoint refuses to see his "victims" as anything but human beings who, for that reason alone and regardless of what heinous crime they might have committed to have brought them to this point, deserve at least a modicum of dignity and respect in their final moments on earth. And he's determined to give at least that much to them. But no man can remain completely detached from the business he chooses to engage in, especially when it is as grim as this one is, and eventually Pierrepoint has to come to terms with the things he's seen and the things he's done in the course of that chosen profession. That day of reckoning is brought about by a strange twist of fate that sends Pierrepoint reeling, forcing him to reexamine what it is exactly he's so proudly and meticulously dedicated his life to.

As written by Bob Mills and Jeff Pope and directed by Adrian Shergold, "Pierrepoint" is itself so detached in spirit and tone - at least in its first two-thirds - that it becomes an ironic commentary on the dehumanization that lies at the very heart of capital punishment. But then, without making a fuss of it or in any way grinding its tonal gears, the movie, in its final half-hour, turns into an emotionally devastating plea against continuing the practice of state-approved killing (which England did, in fact, do in 1965), as seen through the eyes of one man who got to experience it up-close-and-personal.

As Pierrepoint, Timothy Spall delivers a performance that can only be termed a masterpiece of internalized understatement, while Juliet Stevenson is his perfect match as the subtly avaricious wife who is both supportive of what he is doing and secretly repelled by it at one and the same time.

On every level possible, this is a truly extraordinary work."
Grim, interesting, quietly polemical, and with two magnifice
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 10/18/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Albert Pierrepoint was a paragon of lower-middle-class respectability. He and his wife, Annie, lived in a small, tidy house. His favorite supper was pork chop. He was not too keen a man, but serious about those things he held important. Annie was loyal, kept a quiet house and served his meals on time. They had no children. Albert Pierrepoint's job was delivering wholesale supplies to markets. He also had a part-time job, a job he didn't speak about. He hanged people. He did so punctiliously, with dedication and decency. Albert Pierrepoint, according to the movie, was the United Kingdom's last chief hangman. It was a job that ran in his family. His father and uncle were official hangmen, too. Between 1933 and 1955, Pierrepoint hanged over 600 people. Nearly a third were Nazi war criminals.

He took with pride and seriousness his duties. When called to perform a hanging he always took the train to the prison site, stayed a night, insisted upon a hot meal, and became so proficient he was able to move the prisoner from the holding cell to the gallows and then to the drop in an average of little more than 11 seconds. His best time was 7.5 seconds, but some believe this prisoner cooperated by stepping to the noose even faster than Pierrepoint. He believed that when a prisoner was hanged the person's guilt was cleansed. He treated the body with respect, cleaning it carefully (the relaxation of the sphincter muscles can sometimes cause a loss of dignity for the dead), and insisting on a coffin of proper size.

He was a dedicated practitioner of his craft. Over time he developed a useful chart that analyzed body weight, body height and rope length, He used the chart to insure that the length of the rope was exactly what was required for the drop to break the neck cleanly between the second and third vertebrae. Before Pierrepoint's analysis and his chart, many hangings resulted in slow strangulation if the prisoner was not heavy and the drop too short, or in snapping off of the prisoner's head if the prisoner was heavy and the drop too long. Either situation can result in discomfort for those observing and acute professional embarrassment for the hangman.

Albert Pierrepoint's life changed abruptly when his work executing Nazis (he was personally selected for the job by Field Marshal Montgomery) became public knowledge. He became a hero to the British public. He resigned his duties in 1956 over a disputed payment. He and Annie continued to run the pub he had bought partly with his earnings from the Nazi executions. Later, he became a target for those opposed to capital punishment. He died, full of years, in 1992 in a nursing home.

As with many biographical and social-issue movies, the director enjoys cleverness and has a social bone to pick, in this case, capital punishment. Just be aware that Albert Pierrepoint is magnificently portrayed by that wonderful actor, Timothy Spall. Juliet Stevenson, one of Britain's great actresses and who is bound to be made a Dame one of these years, is just as good as Annie Pierrepoint. They are worth seeing the picture for, regardless of your tolerance, or lack of it, for hanging Nazis to a Strauss waltz or for the director's willingness to stretch or invent things to make his social point. While the movie, for example, says Pierrepoint managed over 600 hangings, the best research according to some puts the number at about 425 (still a number any conscientious hangman could be proud of). Pierrepoint wasn't the last of the United Kingdom's hangmen and he wasn't really a hangman for the United Kingdom. The movie's emphasis on Pierrepoint's disillusion with capital punishment avoids Pierrepoint's own equivocations. As many directors might say, these are just quibbles that get in the way of a larger artistic truth.

For all of the Strauss waltzes, the hangings are shown in grim detail and in close-ups. There is not the slightest attempt to avoid the truth that killing people in cold blood, even if the state demands it, requires that aspect of our nature which is hard to reconcile with our basic beliefs and our daily lives. There are times when I found the movie difficult to watch. At least two of the persons Pierrepoint hanged were later found innocent and, to the joy of their corpses, given posthumous pardons.

As you might expect, the movie, which was made originally as a British TV program, went nowhere in Britain. Renamed The Last Executioner for the American market and released briefly in a handful of theaters, it tanked even faster. It's a well-crafted movie, but often grim and polemical. The performances of Spall, in particular, and Stevenson just about redeem any failings. The two are excellent. To enjoy just how fine and versatile an actor Timothy Spall is, watch him in costume as the Mikado in Topsy-Turvy, as a photo archivist in Shooting the Past and as the noxious beadle in Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. For Juliet Stevenson, a couple of her finest performances, I think, are as Nina in Truly Madly Deeply and as the wronged Flora Matlock in The Politician's Wife."