The Sixth Commandment
Scripted by Sarah Phelps (A Very British Scandal), The Sixth Commandment is a broad yet intimate true crime series, which tells the horrifying events of retired schoolteacher Peter Farquhar (Timothy Spall) and his elderly neighbour Ann Moore-Martin (Anne Reid) who were befriended and cruelly manipulated by a seemingly charming churchwarden named Ben Field (Éanna Hardwicke) into making him the main beneficiary of their wills. Told in four parts, the BBC drama recounts the harrowing ordeal Field’s victims were subjected to alongside the ensuing investigation and trial.
Played pitch-perfect by Hardwicke, Field is portrayed as a Hannibal Lecter-type character. From the moment he appears onscreen, his overtly cheery demeanour raises alarm bells, with his sinister presence only growing with every suspicious cup of tea that he hands an unassuming Farquhar. Every unsavoury action continues to heighten the tension to make for some uncomfortable viewing. But what makes Field a terrifying villain (apart from his real-life actions) is that the script keeps most of his character in the dark. There’s no exposition about where he comes from or why he acted how he did. Rather, the series only offers brief glimpses into who the real Ben is through deranged scrawling in a notebook, alongside some odd behaviours when nobody is watching. He’s a real horror villain where the mystery makes him more frightening.
Acting as a counterpoint to the real-life horror story are the personal struggles of the family members impacted by Field’s deceit, specifically Farquhar’s brother (Adrian Rawlins) and Moore-Martin’s niece (Annabel Scholey). Their plights, especially in the latter episodes, are constant reminders of the devastating consequences of what happened. Spall and Reid’s spectacular performances likewise serve to emphasise the vulnerability and loneliness of their characters to demonstrate just how easy it can be for someone in their position to fall into the trap set by sweet words and the promise of companionship.
Although the miniseries is only four episodes long, the show nevertheless has a habit of dragging slightly in each episode. There’s a lot of ground to cover in each instalment with various players and plot threads that the script gets tangled up in. Thankfully, the series never stalls for long before getting back on course.
While it doesn’t shy away from the real-life horror of its subject matter, The Sixth Commandment never forgets the humanity behind true crime drama.
The Sixth Commandment is released on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on 17th July 2023.
Watch the trailer for The Sixth Commandment here: