A Confession writer Jeff Pope spent many hours interviewing the families of murder victims Sian O’Callaghan and Becky Godden for his new ITV true crime drama, as well as the detective tasked with finding the missing girls, but the one person he didn’t speak to was the killer, Christopher Halliwell.
The Swindon taxi driver was jailed for life after admitting to killing the two young women to Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher, played by Martin Freeman in the drama, who deliberately breached police procedure and protocol to secure the confession.
“I’m not interested in what drives Christopher Halliwell,” Pope tells RadioTimes.com.
“My thinking on that is there’s nothing I want to understand about him, I don’t want to understand why he killed those two women, or why he is like he is.
“I’m much more interested in the effects of what he’s done.”
Pope explains that in the scenes where Halliwell is dramatised, information about what he said and how he behaved was drawn from interviews with police officers who were present at the time and recordings of Halliwell in custody.
The mothers of the two victims, Elaine Pickford (played in the drama by Siobhan Finneran) and Karen Edwards (Imelda Staunton), were interviewed extensively when Pope was undertaking research for the series, and he says it is “totally” vital that he has the cooperation and support of real-life families when he is dramatising their stories.
“If either of the mothers didn’t want to do this then I wouldn’t have done it,” says Pope, who has made many true crime dramas including Little Boy Blue and The Moorside.
“Between the dramas that do get made, there are lots of stories that I look at or start to pursue but then they fall down for that reason,” he says. “It depends where people are in the grief process.”
Pope says both the victims’ families and Steve Fulcher will be shown the drama before it airs. “I went through all the scripts with both families,” he says. “I still retain editorial control because you can’t give them a right to veto. It’s about trust. I can’t think of one but if there’s some area of argument I have to listen to them, but I [also] have to be the arbiter of what we do.
“If it’s about being accurate, fact-checking with them is really important.”
The real-life stakeholders have also met the actors who portray them in the drama, with Imelda Staunton admitting that initially, she was reluctant to meet with Becky’s mother Karen Edwards. “I didn’t want to because I was intimidated by it,” she says, “but I did, for about five hours, and I got home and I was exhausted.
“We met in London, with the director, and I didn’t want to ask her anything at all prying about how she feels, but it just poured out of her. She’s an extraordinary person and she’s got a great suit of armour, she’s so strong, and she won’t stop. She supports Steve Fulcher still and all her energy is fuelled by grief and rage, so that will never stop. You’re never going to get over that.”
On meeting Fulcher, Martin Freeman adds: “He came to our rehearsal rooms with his wife, and me and [director] Paul Andrew Williams spoke to them. Paul had met them before so he just let me pick his brains. It was good to get a flavour of what he was like and a bit of colour, of what his motivations are, of what sort of person he is.”
According to Pope, Freeman and Fulcher “got on great”. He says: “Martin had never played a character who he then met, and he was most thrilled when Fulcher’s wife and daughters came and watched him on set and Yvonne Fulcher said, ‘You’ve definitely got him.’ That thrilled him.”
A Confession will air on ITV in September