This biographical drama, set in the late 1930s, tells the story of Timothy Evans who was hanged for the murder of his baby daughter Geraldine and his wife Beryl. He protested his innocence right up until the final moments.
Years later, a gruesome discovery unmasked his neighbour John Reginald Christie - the star prosecution witness - as the real killer.
Roth plays Christie, who, beneath his respectable façade, was a sadistic killer.
The three-part series offers insight into his dangerous mind and how he managed to dupe his unsuspecting neighbours as well as how the British justice system failed an innocent man.
Roth was familiar with the real-life tragedy before taking on the project.
“I was born in 1961, so it was recent history, and the death penalty was outlawed not long afterward, with the case and the possibility of Evans’s innocence put forward as one of the reasons. Bogeymen were a thing of kids’ stories at that point and that’s who Christie was.”
On slipping into the skin of such a character, he says: “The idea of taking him on was really a challenge. I’ve never played anything like this before. It is especially a challenge when someone is so deceitful in a psychopathic way.
“He deceived the public and he deceived people close to him. He murdered with virtual impunity. He used and abused his power and was allowed to go about his merry way. His circle was quite small but he operated within it well. I can’t believe he got away with hiding the truth in the courtroom.”
While it wasn’t easy getting to the core of the character as he was secretive, Roth manifests the traits that have become common knowledge.
“I know facts about him and I think (Richard) Attenborough would probably say the same thing that, up to a point, you can peel away the layers but you hit stone after a while. You can’t get to the core of him. But the fact of not being able to get at the inner workings of the man actually says a lot about him. He developed a character, a performance, that was very warm and comforting to people around him, to his neighbours, his peers and people at work. Although his downfall seemed to be that he really loved power and he couldn’t stop himself.”
In the series, the place is very much a character.
“There is a certain kind of seclusion but I think in the end it defeated him. They lived in two-and-a-half rooms in pretty grim, box-like conditions and he ran out of space.”
Working with director Craig Viveiros has been a memorable experience for Roth. “I think Craig quickly learned that you have to be a different director to different actors. You have to wear 20 different hats every day and he wears them well. I watch him working with the other actors, which is always a good indication. It’s a very easy working relationship.”
Viveiros says: “Rillington Place is one of the most famous miscarriages of justice in British history. I’ve been aware of the case for some time and it’s always intrigued me, purely just on the miscarriage of justice for Tim Evans. As soon as I heard that Sharon Bloom and Phillippa Giles were making Rillington Place, it was definitely something that piqued my interest and I knew I’d be keen to be involved.
“My immediate reaction to the scripts was that Tracey and Ed had done a great job in creating a new and interesting take on an already interpreted story by dividing it up into three parts, and creating a triptych with the stories of Ethel, Tim Evans and John Christie all in their own separate facets. Telling the story this way through a single person’s perspective allowed us to be bolder in how we told it.”
Rillington Place airs on BBC First (DStv channel 119) on Wednesdays at 8pm.