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The Widower (PBS/ITV/Blu-ray/2014)



 
Malcolm Webster (b. 1959), played by Reece Shearsmith, was convicted in 2011 of murdering his first wife, Claire (Sheridan Smith) in Scotland, trying to kill his second, Jane (Federay Holmes), in New Zealand, and for attempting a bigamous marriage with a third, Simone Banerjee (Archie Punjabi), in order to gain her estate for his own profit, as he had the other two.

Apparently charming, if not handsome, Webster managed to keep the police at bay for a decade, while he kept himself out of perennial debt by marrying and fleecing his wives, or by killing the first one for the insurance (£200,000).  Tripped up by his feigned hypochondria, he was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment (out in 30 years) in five years ago for his horrendous deeds. 

Screenwriters Jim Barton and Jeff Pope have condensed the decade-long escapades into a manageable three-hour run, and Paul Whittington has directed it with pace and solemnity.  It’s always fascinating to watch the duplicitous (sociopaths, nearly always) work their magic on those willing to be emotionally seduced.  Actor Shearsmith, known in the UK for his comedy work with The League of Gentlemen, has an appealing hang-dog look to his Malcolm, making the most of his villainy.  It’s an intriguing performance, allowing it to be a lot easier to accept the willingness of the women in his life (there were more than the three profiled here) to want to marry him.

In addition to the quality work of Shearsmith, Holmes, Smith, and Punjabi, equal kudos must go to John Hannah, always an addition, as Detective Sergeant Charlie Henry.  Also, to Martin Fuhrer’s cinematography and Ben Lester’s editing.  This is a well-made mini-series, with plenty of wonderment at how long Webster was able to get away with his sociopathic life-act.  But he was eventually caught (due to people speaking up to the authorities, and the heavy-duty groundwork of the police, both in Scotland and in New Zealand), so there are some fine lessons for the rest of us there.