To Be Remembered As A Hangman…

I watched a rather strange movie last night, and it was called Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman.  It is the story of Albert Pierrepoint, an Englishman whose job it was to hang convicted criminals.

Pierrepoint remained anonymous for a long time–most people who knew him thought his job was delivering groceries–but came to notoriety when he had to execute a number of German war criminals.

This story, while mostly about how a man can be good at a job that involves the legal taking of life, is in a sense about the end of capital punishment in England.  Pierrepoint is both lauded and vilified by the public.  Some see him as an avenging angel, someone who ended the lives of the Germans who killed thousands, while others see him only as someone capable of killing others.

Timothy Spall (known to many as Wormtail from the Harry Potter series) does an amazing job of portraying Pierrepoint.  He is able to make believable a man who is intent on doing such a job well, and with surprising compassion.  Pierrepoint’s method insured that the criminal died instantly, from the separation of the second and third vertebrae of the neck.  He also felt that the accused was innocent after death, and should be honored as any other person.  Spall was able to portray this seeming dichotomy.

Another bright spot in the movie was Eddie Marsan, who played Pierrepoint’s friend Tish.  For most of the story, Tish doesn’t know what Pierrepoint’s real job is.  They are just mates who meet up for some ale and to sing together.  And yet, Tish, in a sense, is the one who makes Pierrepoint reevaluate his job.

Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman is a very interesting and well-made movie, even if it is not for everyone.  What I found interesting is that, while hanging is seen as a barbaric form of execution today, the way Pierrepoint did it it’s far less gruesome than electrocution.

2 Responses

  1. Pat Lynch

    “Pierrepoint” is one of my favorite movies, even if it is full of historical errors. The real story of the Pierrepoint family is much more interesting than the movie. Albert’s father was chief executioner for about 10 years around 1900. Albert’s dad got his brother Tom interested in the family business and Tom was Albert’s mentor for most of the 1930s while Albert was an assistant hangman. It is a much better story than the movie. Of course, a film only has a limited amount of time and “Pierrepoint” correctly depicts the use of English judicial hangings. The method of long drop hangings developed in England seems to be the most humane method. Note, most American hangings have been short drop, which strangles the victim and takes as much as 20 minutes to cause death.

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