When Christopher Jefferies appeared before the cameras of Sky News and refused to participate in the doorstep inquiries regarding his statement to the police in light of the discovery of the body of his tenant Jo Yeates on Christmas Day 2010, many were struck by the strangeness of the man in the parka and polo neck; his brittle wispy haired comb over, his thin elongated appearance matching his equally thin elongated speech patterns. Exactly how many immediately associated the strangeness with a notion of guilt remains unclear, but what is undeniably, shocking clear is how quickly, how cruelly the media equated his manner with guilt and, setting themselves up as judge jury and executioner proceeded to defame and slander his character from that moment on.
In a society that views anything different as suspicious this was enough for the TV and the newspapers to convict him. It was enough too for the police to arrest him, suggesting that their mindset hasn't changed very much at all since the arrest of Stefan Kiszko in 1975.
Christopher Jefferies only crime was to be himself.
The Lost Honour Of Christopher Jefferies is a two part TV film by Roger Michell (himself a former pupil of Jefferies) from a script by Peter Morgan that broadcast on ITV on consecutive nights, Wednesday and Thursday this week. As an exemplary and absorbing exploration into the line that was crossed by both the media and the police of Avon and Somerset, which chewed up and spat out an innocent if curious bachelor, it is a deeply moving and thought provoking triumph. Jason Watkins, long since a favourite character actor of mine thanks to his versatility, captures the uniqueness of the haunted Jefferies from his near destruction right through to his subsequent triumph as an exonerated man and as a campaigner for Hacked Off, the organisation for a free and accountable press and stronger regulations within the media industry. His performance is captivating, embodying the quirks and eccentricities of the man in a natural seamless manner. It is mannered, camp, gentle and funny and the protective sense the production has of such an individual is palpable throughout. In many ways this is a paean to the British eccentric, its message warning us of the dangers of not being inclusive and accommodating as a society.
A tale of two halves, the first details Jefferies arrest and his ordeal in the interim between Christmas and the New Year whilst the second explores his subsequent thrust into the limelight to campaign against the victimisation of others similar to himself, complete with a new look he took on advice of his friends. The Leveson Inquiry scenes feature a wonderful cameo from fellow Hacked Off campaigner Steve Coogan as himself, offering words advice to the nervous Jefferies. I've seen some minor complaints suggesting too little attention was given to Jo Yeates, but this isn't her story; her tragic and untimely, violent death at the hands of neighbour Vincent Tabak is merely the catalyst that plunged Jefferies into the depths and out the other end. Personally I think the production pays a respectful and sensitive tribute to the young girl in featuring her in only one scene. And speaking of brief appearances, look out for Michell's wife the splendid actress Anna Maxwell Martin in a minor role as a bakery store assistant. I was also impressed by Shaun Parkes' turn as Jefferies solicitor; again a versatile actor whose talents aren't as rated as perhaps they should be.
The Lost Honour Of Christopher Jefferies commenced the Christmas season of TV with style.