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BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT (director: John Laing; screenwriter: David Yallop/from the book by David Yallop; cinematographer: Alun Bollinger; editor: Michael Horton; music: Dave Fraser; cast: David Hemmings (Insp. Bruce Hutton), John Hargreaves (Arthur Allan Thomas), John Bach (Detective Murray Jeffries), Martyn Sanderson (John Hughes), Grant Tilly (David Morris, prosecutor), Diana Rowan (Vivien Thomas), Marshall Napier (Constable Wyllie), Ian Watkin (Kevin Ryan, defense lawyer), Terence Cooper (Paul Temin), Tony Barry (Detective Hughes); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Barnett; Satori; 1980-New Zealand)
“Engrossing courtroom drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Laing (“The Lost Tribe”) shoots this engrossing courtroom drama in a clinical documentary style as a police procedural film. This chilling true story crime drama is based on the book and script by British journalist David Yallop. The modest film proves to be more important than just being a movie because the book it’s based on ended up in gaining the release of the innocent farmer Arthur Allan Thomas (John Hargreaves), who was wrongly arrested by a zealous anal-compulsive Inspector Hutton (David Hemmings) for the double-murder of a rural Pukekawa, New Zealand farm couple named Harvey and Jeanette Crewe. The controversial murder case occupied the country’s courts from 1970 till the Prime Minister’s pardon in 1979. The pardon was influenced by Yallop’s book that pointed out that the inspector planted incriminating evidence and then suppressed other evidence that would have exonerated Thomas just to get a conviction because he felt under pressure from his superiors. The Prime Minister as a result of the book and family pressure from the Thomas family ordered a Commission of Inquiry, despite two trials in which he was found guilty, and they recommended that Thomas be released after serving nine years in prison.

The film has film noir trappings as the heavy-handed police don’t trust anyone they question and not only are capable of rigging the evidence, but of jury tampering to make sure they get a conviction. The human drama is exhausting, as Thomas’ wife Vivian (Diana Rowan) comes unglued from all the tension as doubts seep in about her hubby and she divorces him and remarries. The convicted man is in a state of shock that this could be happening to him and is shocked that others could believe him capable of murder on such flimsy evidence.

The acting is first-class. Hemmings makes for a frightening investigator, who is monstrous in his phony efficiency, menacing banality and his relentless pursuit to nail anyone for the crime so he can preserve his rep as a hotshot cop. Grant Tilly as the prosecutor and Ian Watkin as the defense counsel give fierce performances. While Hargreaves gives a moving understated performance as the innocent who asks the cops “You wouldn’t want me to confess to something I didn’t do, would you? Would you?”, and learns the hard way that’s exactly what the cops wanted.

What the film doesn’t do is attempt to solve the murder mystery (which it’s not capable of doing anyway) or trying to flush out more about who fed the infant left alone in the abandoned farm house for five days after the disappearance of the parents.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”