Stories of patricide are as old as time, yet they never fail to horrify. In The Murders at White House Farm, a restrained British series on HBO that dramatizes a real crime from 1985, 5 members of the Bamber family are killed in the middle of the night at their farm. When authorities arrive, it looks like a murder/suicide, because Sheila (Cressida Bonas), the twenty-something daughter, is found with a rifle in her hands and wounds that appear self-inflicted. But as the weeks pass, both a detective and a family cousin start to doubt the story, and turn their attention to the surviving son, Jeremy Bamber (Freddie Fox). *Note: if you are not familiar with this story, DON’T google it until you’ve watched the series!
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On an August night in 1985, a call comes into the tiny Tolleshunt D’Arcy police station around 3:30AM. “My father just called me, my sister is going berserk with a gun at my family’s farm!” says a panicked Jeremy Bamber. The cops arrive at a ghastly scene: the father, Nevill Bamber (Nicholas Farrell) is in the kitchen, shot and beaten, the mother, June Bamber (Amanda Burton) is found shot next to her bed, Sheila is found in her mother’s bedroom, with the murder weapon laying on her body, and worst of all, Sheila’s twin 6-year-old boys are found shot dead in their beds. A devastated Jeremy met the cops at the scene. The reason a murder/suicide was plausible was because Sheila had just gotten out of the mental hospital, where she was treated for schizophrenia. Sheila’s ex, Colin Caffell (Mark Stanley), had just dropped off Sheila and their sons for a week-long visit with their grandparents.
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Because the crime was considered an open-and-shut case of murder/suicide, the cops were not careful about the crime scene. When DS Stan Jones (Mark Addy) arrives, he’s horrified that the crime is accepted at face value. He locks horns with his superior, DCI Thomas “Taff” Jones (Stephen Graham), who assigns Stan to family liaison duty and orders the case closed. But Stan is undeterred. He secretly investigates the crime scene, lamenting the loss of potential evidence by careless activities such as the police burning anything that was bloodstained, to spare the family having to get rid of it. (!) He notices some inconsistencies, but is stonewalled. Soon, a cousin, Ann Eaton (Gemma Whelan), approaches Stan with her suspicion that Jeremy was the actual killer, not Sheila. Stan doubles down on his investigation, even though it’s getting him in seriously hot water with his superiors.
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The Bamber Family
The Bambers had a lot of secrets, and I wish we got more backstory. Nevill and June Bamber were successful grain farmers and land owners, and June was a well-respected member of her church. Several characters make references to June’s strict and possibly esteem-battering rules around praying and religion, but we never get the objective story. Sheila and Jeremy were both adopted, from different mothers. Sheila had been a model, but stopped. After her divorce from Colin, she was mostly being supported by her parents, who paid for her flat in London. Sheila had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic, and was on an anti-psychotic with sedative effects. One of her delusions was that the devil was inside her, her sons and her mother. Jeremy lived in Essex, down the road from the farm, and he was resentful that he was forced to work on the farm. He wanted a glamorous, paid-for London life, like his sister. Jeremy’s girlfriend, Julie Mugford (Alexa Davies), was devoted to him, but wary of him cheating on her. She’s a dark horse, let me tell you.
Our Take On The Murders at White House Farm
The mini-series The Murders at White House Farm was created using both the eponymous book by Carol Ann Lee , and Colin Caffell’s book, In Search of the Rainbow’s End. The series focuses on the events after the murders, specifically how DS Stan Jones is finally able to bring a case against Jeremy Bamber, although physical evidence is practically non-existent. Although it’s at least an episode too long, The Murders at White House Farm boasts an exceptional cast delivering stellar work, with the possible exception of Stephen Graham, who isn’t given much to do except play golf and yell at Stan. Mark Addy particularly stands out. Because this was a British crime, I knew nothing about it, and I binged it in one day. I can see how it would feel draggy if you are familiar with the actual events. But if you enjoy quality dramatizations of true crime, this is for you.
*Game of Thrones fans, look for a reunion between Yara and Theon Greyjoy!
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