Steven Berkoff’s Tell Tale Heart review – voraciously hammy gothic | Film

More likely to bore the bejesus out of you than chill the marrow of your bones, here’s a film of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, a gothic short story in which a grandiose madman confesses to murdering and dismembering an elderly gentleman. Steven Berkoff, who starred in a successful one-man stage version in the 1980s, overdoes it a bit and then some with an unhinged, voracious performance as the killer – not so much chewing the scenery as devouring entire pieces of furniture in single greedy mouthfuls. There’s little curiosity here about the twists and turns of the human psyche.

Watch the trailer for Steven Berkoff’s Tell Tale Heart

The script, co-written by Berkoff and director Stephen Cookson, doesn’t put much flesh on the bones of Poe’s story, which fills a few pages – so that in places the movie feels like an Audible recording set to images. Berkoff is Edmund, a servant in 1890s London gripped by the delusion that his master’s glaucomic eye is evil. For seven nights he lurks at the old man’s bedroom door before bumping him off on night eight, hiding the body parts under floorboards. When three police constables knock at the door, alerted by reports of screams, Edmund coughs up, tormented by guilt.

The film has a couple of nicely grisly moments: a severed foot drops to the floor with a pleasingly heavy thud. The dark, shadowy design is atmospheric, and a terrifically creepy score by David Lord and Tim Wheater gets under the skin with its unnerving jangles and rat squeaks. But in place of scariness there is Berkoff’s showy performance, which assiduously adheres to the lurid, hysterical Victorian perception of insanity – his Edmund is clearly bound for Bedlam to rattle chains for the rest of his natural born. He makes Hannibal Lecter look like an introvert. Would a modern framing of Edmund’s mental state have added some psychological depth? This had a shrill hammy, am-drammy feel. 

Source: The Guardian

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