JT Film Review

105 – Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman (2005)

Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman REVIEW

4.5/5 stars

Director – Adrian Shergold

Cast – Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson, Eddie Marsan, Tobias Menzies


Timothy Spall is one of those actors who you can’t help but love. He mainly gets bit parts in films where a chubby, funny looking English guy is called for (Sweeney Todd, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Last Samauri, etc), but his talent (and his odd look) have always kept him high on the list of prolific English actors. This film, Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman, relies hugely on his talents, and he is a large part of why it succeeds.

The movie deals with Albert Pierrepoint, a hangman in England in the 30’s to 50’s (despite the title, not the last hangman in England.)  He took great pride in his work, making sure to use the right amount of rope for the body to hang correctly. He kept this side job secret (he worked full-time as a grocery delivery man), as he found that anonymity made it easier to “leave his job at the doormat” so to speak. He was proud of his professionalism, his quick executions, and his care of the body afterwards. In fact he was a proud man in general. Not proud in the brash, egotistical sense, but in the quiet, reserved, English sort of way.

The best part of Spall’s performance is the way in which he demonstrates the difference between Pierrepoint the executioner and Pierrepoint the man. The man is bubbly, friendly, and caring. The executioner is reserved, quiet, and stern. Spall delivers a masterclass in subtle but distinct characterization. What is most amazing is that we understand and appreciate both sides of his personality.

Any discussion of the movie would be remiss without mentioning Eddie Marsan. He plays an acquaintance of Pierrepoint’s who comes to play a large part in the film. Some have said that his subplot is contrived, and while I will not ruin it for those who haven’t seen the film, I will say that his story did indeed happen, which goes to show that fact is indeed stranger than fiction.

The latter part of the movie deals with the controversy surrounding capital punishment, and Pierrepoint’s reversal of his stand on the matter. While it does do this, it does not raise it to the level of an issue film, but deals with the issues as seen through the eyes of Pierrepoint and his experiences hanging prisoners in England, and even hanging Nazi’s in Germany after the Nuremberg trials. In other words, we don’t think about the issues during the film (it definitely prompts us to think about the issues afterwards), but we think about Pierrepoint’s reaction to the issues. This is the mark of a succesful biopic, I think.


Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman is a quiet, well acted, and deeply moving character study. There are a couple of issues with story structure that one could quibble over, but the film is so moving and the acting done with such perfection that we can not help but be swept right along with the whole thing. I loved this movie, and even though it is not well-known, I hope others will seek it out. It is a remarkably rewarding experience.



“Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman: on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia



August 20, 2010 - Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Thanks for the great review — Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman has been on my radar for a while now… I shall investigate 🙂

    Comment by Joachim Boaz | August 20, 2010 | Reply

    • It is unfortunate that it is not on more people’s radar. I think people are in too big a rush for the new, the quirky, or the epic. There’s becoming less and less room for good, solid, well made dramas.

      Comment by jamesturpin | August 20, 2010 | Reply

  2. I live of of solid well made drama (well, mostly from the 60s and 70s) — I just saw The Go-Between and was blown away (I just saw another one of the Losey (dir.) Harold Pinter (writer) collaborations — The Servant and loved it)…

    (I do love my experimental film and bad sci-fi though!)

    Comment by Joachim Boaz | August 20, 2010 | Reply

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