Gallows

Oscar Gilbert reviews Radio 4’s The Thrill of Love

The Thrill of Love is a concise radio dramatisation of the events surrounding the execution of Ruth Ellis by hanging on 13 July 1955. Serving as the last instance to date in which capital punishment was administered in the United Kingdom, Ellis’s case takes on particular historical significance. She was convicted of murder following the shooting of her lover Daniel Blakely on Easter Sunday, 1955.

Writer Amanda Whittington undertakes an intriguing task in the dramatisation of this scenario. Her script is largely engaging in its presentation of events and convincing in its portrayal of minor characters (particularly Sylvia). Thematically, the play is stimulating in its analysis of moral conflicts relating to Ellis’s work as an escort, her duty as a parent, her love for her abuser, and the extent of her feminist obligation. The omission of male acting roles, for the most part, is also an effective device and serves to further emphasise the writer’s focus on female experience.

However, whilst aspects of Whittington’s script are effective, the characterisation of Ellis herself is limp and under-developed. The intensity of her love for Blakely is unconvincing given that the only positive attribute mentioned, amongst constant descriptions of physical abuse and draining dependency, is a clichéd tricolon describing him as “tall, dark and handsome”. In addition to this, inclusion of detective Jack Gale as a narrator is unnecessary, and attempts to inject an element of criminal mystery that would only have been appropriate in a parody of an American detective story.

Whilst significant flaws dominate the script, the actors’ performances are generally convincing – as far as their lines allow. The setting of London in the 1950s is convincingly established and Maxine Peake’s performance as Ruth Ellis is effective in highlighting the character’s robust charisma.

Whilst The Thrill of Love is generally engaging and aspects of its performance are stimulating, the flaws in the conception of the two main characters make it fundamentally underwhelming.

Image: Photoguyimo @ Flickr

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