Stephen Cookson (director)
11 June 2020 (released)
06 June 2020
Billed as Steven Berkoff’s Tell-Tale Heart may seem a bit presumptuous even though he wrote the screenplay and was adapted by director Stephen Cookson from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. However Berkoff has performed this as a one man show, has one prizes for his performance and Poe has been dead for a while now so isn’t in a position to object, and once you get into the story it becomes clear how much of this adaptation relies in Berkoff’s performance.
Speaking straight camera, narrating, third party and direct interaction with the other characters it’s a very technical piece as Berkoff playing the live-in caretaker Edmund recounts the lead up to the murder and his subsequent mental breakdown.
At times pushing himself (and the viewer) to the limits it is playful, arrogant (as he plots the murder of the old man (Dudley Sutton) whose ‘vulture eye’ has embedded itself in his mind), demented and to the point of absurd. It’s a singular performance that Berkoff just about pulls off the portrayal of a man with a tug-of-war in his head between the rational and irrational, without going totally off the rails into self-indulgence.
As per the origins of this version it does look stagey at times with wide, sparse sets while the murky hues heighten the dankness of the squalid apartments and buildings. Highly stylised it may be but very effective.
The film is faithful to the original story which presents difficulties as it is a very short story. As such the film feels padded at times with some wandering around the sets and long pauses, even then it has a relatively short running time.
This is very much Berkoff’s eighty minutes though the late Dudley Sutton, in one of his last roles, gives a solid performance as the terrified yet defiant old man. And as we approach the conclusion with the police investigating (Hugh Skinner, Henry Goodman and Mark Brailsford) and with their questioning. There are few words but it’s all oddly calm almost as if they know and are just waiting for Edmund to fall apart. It's brilliantly balanced.
The Tell-Tale Heart will be available on DVD from June 11 and on various digital platforms including Amazon, Apple TV and Google Play at a later date.