When the dead body of Joanna Yeates was discovered lying in a ditch on Christmas Day 2010, suspicion immediately fell on her landlord, Christopher Jefferies. Jefferies was arrested and held for 96 hours by the police before being released without charge. In his absence he had been the subject of a vitriolic trial by tabloid newspaper and when he emerged from custody, he had one of the most recognisable faces in the country. Now a new drama, The Lost of Christopher Jefferies, puts him centre stage again.
The murder is subordinated to Jefferies story. Joe Sims is subtly sinister as Vincent Tabak but he is afforded little screentime. Sims is joined by a host of talented actors in the supporting cast including Ben Caplan and Anna Maxwell Martin. There’s even a slightly forced meta-cameo by Steve Coogan as Steve Coogan, giving him a chance to look sombre and wax lyrical about press regulation but nothing distracts from the central performance given by Jason Watkins. The rest of the cast are his window dressing and handy props for sometimes clumsy plot extrapolation.
Luckily, Watkins in the titular role doesn’t need a lot of support. His affection for his character is obvious and his performance is sensitive and intelligent. He is let down by a clunky script and early character establishment borders on caricature. We are supposed to realise that Jefferies is odd as he is educated, cultured, well-mannered and pedantic about language to the point of being a dick about it. The last point is affirmed and reaffirmed to the point tedium. After several exchanges in the police station that would stretch the patience of even the most ardent grammar Nazi, his solicitor is forced to step in and ask him to ‘ease off the schoolteacheriness’. Thankfully, that advice is heeded and the character is allowed room to breathe from that point. The moments of true excellence in this drama are the understated ones, when Jefferies struggles in quiet desperate to maintain his dignity under stomach-churning pressure.
There are times where the narrative swears dangerously into Richard Curtis territory with middle class people doing some shocking swearing and making melodramatic speeches about demure heroism but Watkins almost ubiquitous presence raises this drama from a worthy biopic into a gentle and sensitive character study.
The first episode of The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies will be broadcast the 10th December at 9.00pm on ITV and concludes the following night.