Homicides that claimed several relatives still are debated
In a docudrama series based on a true British crime, multiple homicides are family matters.
“The Murders at White House Farm” debuted earlier this year in England to much attention and acclaim. It makes its U.S. premiere by streaming on HBO Max starting Thursday, Sept. 24, and recounting a 1985 case in which five relatives including six-year-old twins were shot to death in a presumed murder-suicide. Suspicion fell on the children’s mother, who also died in the incident and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, but her adopted brother — who implicated her after notifying police of the deaths — ultimately was convicted of the crimes and sentenced to life in prison.
“I couldn’t believe that someone hadn’t already tackled this material,” says executive producer and co-writer Kris Mrksa, an Australian who learned of the story through a book he read about it. ”It was so emotionally involving, it was such an intriguing mystery … and so many of the facts were beyond belief, actually, that these things really happened.”
Freddie Fox (“Year of the Rabbit”) plays Jeremy Bamber, the informant turned prime suspect. “We wanted to create as plausible an appearance of somebody suffering in grief for as long as possible,” the actor explains, “always making the audience ask the questions, ‘Could he? Could he not? Did he? Did he not?’ I used a lot of emotional recall from pictures and memories and things that Colin (Caffell, one of the victims’ survivors) had told me for the more difficult scenes where I had to seem genuinely remorseful.”
Also in the cast is Gemma Whelan (“Game of Thrones”) as Ann Eaton, a Bamber cousin who became a witness in his prosecution. “I think a lot of people thought they knew the story,” Whelan reflects. “People in my mother’s generation have said, ‘I knew how it was going to end, and still, I was gripped and hooked and thought it might not work out the way I thought it worked out.’ Kris wrote it with such intrigue, people were still left guessing, even though they knew what was going to happen.”
Lawyers for the innocence-professing Bamber tried (and didn’t succeed) to have the series’ telecast on England’s ITV postponed while the third appeal of his sentence was being considered last winter.
“This case is still so contested, we didn’t take the approach that we were going to stitch it all up very neatly at the end,” Mrksa notes. “We always felt that you would be left at the end of our series in a position more like you are after you watch something like ‘The Staircase’ or ‘Making a Murderer.’ There’s still open questions which people can argue about and debate.”