Muted drama ventures inside the mind of homeowner who killed an Irish Traveller

TV review: ‘The Interrogation of Tony Martin’ explores a shooting in Norfolk

Paranoid, belligerent Tony Martin, played by Steve Pemberton

Paranoid, belligerent Tony Martin, played by Steve Pemberton

 

When two burglars broke into the home of Tony Martin, late on August 20th, 1999, Martin was prepared. His habit was to sleep in his work clothes, he told police officers the next day, with his boots on, in case of any unexpected disturbances.

“That’s one of the oddities with me,” he said as the tape recorder rolled, speaking as though it was not in the least bit odd. Nor, for that matter, that he kept a shotgun beneath his bed.

In a few moments he had discharged his weapon, killing one intruder, a 16-year-old boy, and wounding the other (both of whom, this confined dramatisation does not elaborate, were Irish Travellers).

The case threw Britain into an uproar.

In The Interrogation of Tony Martin (Channel 4, Sunday, 9pm), writer and director David Nath begins with one shrewd inclusion: a flitter of images and sounds from the contemporary media coverage.

Here, William Hague and Tony Blair supplant one another on the screen, while a divided nation ruminates on fear and loathing, on property rights and standing your ground. But the drama quickly shrinks into Martin’s police interviews, filmed as a verbatim re-enactment in a cold grey interrogation room, where a man troublingly full of oddities represents himself in his own words.

“I’ve had a horrendous experience,” he tells them flatly, as though in a Harold Pinter play. “It’s an absolute nightmare.”

Indeed, his home is called Bleak House, as though determined to tempt fate, and his life has been one of chronic isolation, perceived threat and constant grievance. “There is nobody to help you,” he says, in Steve Pemberton’s guarded performance, pivoting between paranoia and aggression. “I wish I was in China, ” he shouts, apropos of very little. “They’d put a bullet in my bloody head and I’d be out of the way.”

Nath, however, wants to put us in Martin’s bloody head, finding it clouded with obsessions, often muting the sounds around him, as though Martin’s ears were still ringing, then barraging him with sudden noises of outside interference. It’s a horrendous experience. An absolute nightmare.

Unfortunately, everything that’s interesting about the case is beyond Martin’s cowled perception: the cautious concerns of his mother, the more strenuous worries of his alarmed neighbour, the contradictory evidence presented at his trial.

In court, it was revealed, the intruders had been anything other than silent phantoms (Martin claimed he did not realise he had shot anyone): the last word of the teenager, Fred Barras, shot in the back, was a helpless, “Mum”.

That’s as much voice as the deceased gets, however, which amplifies the unease around Nath’s decision to give the concluding minutes of his film to the real Martin. Originally found guilty of murder, but released three years later, on appeal, for manslaughter, Martin is now filmed returning to a boarded up and crumbling Bleak House, sounding only more paranoid, more belligerent: “I’m going to look after myself,” he insists.

His earlier words, in the stygian gloom of the interrogation room, were more darkly equivocal: “I was in a very regrettable position,” he concludes. “I don’t know what else to say.”

Nor, sadly, does this muted drama.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.