Ladykillers (TV Series 1980–1981) Poster

(1980–1981)

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Not such a "nasty little series"...
Ruthven2 January 2004
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre's assessment of this series is a little incorrect. It is a low-budget anthology series, but, rather than showing a re-enactment of the crime, each programme instead concentrates solely on the court case, presumably dramatized using the court records. MacIntyre also points out that the 'gimmick' of the show is that "all the murderers are men and all their victims are women". In fact the first series (entitled "Lady Killers") is all about women who killed. MacIntyre suggests that "it would have been interesting to see a few famous murderesses getting a look-in, such as Madeleine Smith or Mrs Maybrick or even Myra Hindley". Presumably it would have been seen as tasteless to dramatize the Hindley case at the time, but the producers did indeed think that Madeleine Smith was a good subject as the episode "Miss Madeleine Smith" was broadcast on the 24th August 1980. Other subjects included child murderer Amelia Dyer (played by the brilliant Joan Sims), Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain (played by Georgina Hale), French woman Marie Fahmy (played by Barbara Kellerman) who murdered her husband at the Savoy Hotel, plus Kate Webster, Mary Pearcey, and Charlotte Bryant.

The second 1981 series was slightly renamed as "Ladykillers", allowing the producers to extend the original remit of the series and to look at people who murdered women, although the killers were still not exclusively male. Subjects covered in this series were Dr Crippen and his mistress (played by John Fraser and Hannah Gordon), Frederick and Margaret Seddon (Michael Jayston and Carol Drinkwater), Edith Thompson (Gayle Hunnicutt), who with her much younger boyfriend (Christopher Villiers), possibly murdered her husband, and Neville Heath (played by Ian Charleson). I would hesitate to call any of the performers I have named as "downmarket actors".

Both series re-enact the less lurid type of murders (poisoning instead of stabbing, etc.), although this decision, as with the decision that purely sexual or (more horrifically) motiveless murders were not to be dramatized, was not, I should think, anything to do with the producers' being "embarrassed by the sexism and prurience of their own gimmick", but simply a case of what was permissible in a prime-time ITV time-slot.

Morley is a poor choice to host the series, and he has a little bit too much glee in his eyes as he gives the viewer the more salacious details of the crimes. However, to say that this presenting style "plays up to the unfortunate tendency of male audiences to view violence against women purely for its entertainment value, without making any attempt to empathise with the (real or fictional) victims" is incorrect as, as already observed, the entire first series is dedicated to female killers. As the stories are also all set after the crime has been committed and are entirely Court Room-bound, is would be difficult for the writers to ignore showing empathy for the victims, as the testimonies of their friends and family are, at times, the hardest things to watch in the programmes.
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Someone has NOT been doing his homework
ccamp317526 February 2004
The series, "Lady Killers", from 1980, (not to be confused with either the Alec Guiness or the Tom Hanks movie) is NOT about women victims, but about women MURDERESSES. Each episode is the story of a woman who commits a crime, is caught, tried and, usually, hanged. The series begins with lady murdurers from the 19th century, and poor Ruth Ellis figures in the ultimate installment. The name "Lady Killers" is a sort of double play on the title: the ladies were all killers, and the state finally kills THEM. I've been looking for a VHS or CD of it, but to no avail, and stumbled on this "review". I can only infer from its gross inaccuracy that is was written by someone who has not taken the trouble to peek at the series. Watch what you write, "reviewers",..., and watch what you BELIEVE, gentle readers.
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Male-on-female murder
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre18 December 2002
UPDATE: I originally wrote the following review after watching only the second (1981) series of 'Lady Killers', which featured dramatisations of true murders committed by men upon women victims. Another IMDb reviewer has recently pointed out to me that the first (1980) series of episodes featured murderesses who had male victims ... such as the notorious Madeleine Smith, who was famously found 'not proved' guilty in the traditional Scottish verdict. I regret the error, and I thank the reviewer who pointed it out. Now, read on.

"Lady Killers" (no relation to the famous comedy film "The Ladykillers") is a low-budget anthology series compered by Robert Morley. Each episode is an historical re-enactment of a famous murderer (usually a serial killer, rather than a one-off) ... the gimmick being that all the murderers are men and all their victims are women. It would have been interesting to see a few famous murderesses getting a look-in, such as Madeleine Smith or Mrs Maybrick or even Myra Hindley.

As if embarrassed by the sexism and prurience of their own gimmick, the producers of this series have downplayed murderers who acted for sexual gratification (such as Jack the Ripper and his 1960s imitator, Jack the Stripper) in favour of murderers who were motivated by profit or misogyny, such as the Acid Bath Killer. There is also a tendency here to avoid the more lurid methods of murder (stabbing, gunshot) in favour of stranglers and poisoners. Each episode begins in 'Masterpiece Theatre' fashion, with Morley seated in a comfortable armchair, cosily giving us a few details about the life of the murderer we are about to meet, and his historical context. Then we see an enactment of the murders and their aftermath, often set in Victorian (or at least pre-World War) Britain, always depicted on an extremely low budget with downmarket actors.

Robert Morley is a poor choice to host this series. He plays the whole thing as a big joke, a hugely enjoyable bit of fun. This emphasises the offensive nature of this series. As the violence depicted here is exclusively male-on-female, Morley's tendency to treat it all as a joke plays up to the unfortunate tendency of male audiences to view violence against women purely for its entertainment value, without making any attempt to empathise with the (real or fictional) victims. There's an unfortunate implication hanging over this series ... namely, an impression of men and women fulfilling pre-ordained roles: men as killers and women as their victims. I'm sorry to be so Politically Correct, but this nasty little series deserves it. At this point in his career, Morley was just a hack who would take any job that paid the bills for his immense luncheon-hampers from Fortnum and Mason.

I'll rate "Lady Killers" two points out of 10. I enjoy Morley's work in several of his other roles, but not here. The enactments of the real-life murders are scrupulously accurate, but the educational (and entertainment) value of this series is minimal.
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