It’s not unusual for a new true crime drama to drop on television and for everyone to be talking about it. It reaches a larger audience than those who consume true crime podcasts and brings to light crimes that either the general public hasn’t heard of, or were too young at the time to remember.
Often there might be a podcast alongside it like The White House Farm a podcast which breaksdown not only the crime, but tells the audience about the process of making dramatic TV out of the worst moments in others lives, sensativly and with integrity. Even if those creating the drama do not make a an accompanying podcast, it is likely that those who want to dive further into the case will find one out there. There are after all millions of true crime podcasts, covering everything the most well known cases, to the relatively obscure or historical.
This however is not the case with the new BBC drama The Sixth Commandment. The Commandment looks at the victims of Ben Fields, a murderer who appeared to gain extream delight in toying with his selected victims and manipulating their emotions. The two victims who we see in the story are Peter Farquhar, who Fields was convicted of murdering and Ann More-Martin, who while not directly killed by Fields, he certainly contributed significantly to her death.
The Sixth Commandment has been universally praised, as a masterclass in true crime drama. Indeed the performance of Timothy Spall as Farquhar, a lonely man his homosexuality in conflict with his deeply held faith, who’s vulnerability was mercilessly exploited by Fields, is truely wonderful. More-Martin is also artfully portrayed by Amanda Reid, who Field also manipulated with promises of love, and exploitation of her religious belief. While Field is certainly not a chaotic or physically violent murderer the destruction of his victims self-esteem, and the exploitation of their most personal parts of themselves means that Fields is in essance just as violent and destructive as any other subject of true crime drama.
In the case of Farquhar and More-Martin there are no long form podcasts, only one off episodes of magazine type podcasts which cover a new case every episode. One reason why no one has yet created a one and done on Farquhar More-Martin is that the kind of indpeth investigation and reporting on these crimes takes time or, people involved can be reluctant to speak, very reasonably wishing to move on rather than drag up the past.
However I also wonder if there is thinking that this was just not going to be a particularily popular case with the general true crime podcasting audience, which tends to squew young and not particularily religious. While all of the case is abhorant, the use of people’s faith to exploit them feels particularily heanous, given so many turn to faith in times of need and for support, as well as being an important, even fundemental, part of many people’s identity. In fact religious abuse is nothing new, anyone who has escaped a cult can tell you that, and there is a long histroy of religious con’s, grabs for power and control, or manipulations. While some argue that religion has caused the most wars, I would posit that religion has been the acceptable excuse for most wars, and we can still see sectarianisim and islamaphobia is alive and well in the UK.
Fields held a voluntary position at his local church, and was hoping to become a candidate for training to become a Vicar. A position which would give him considerable power over any congregation that he was watching over. If he had succeeded he would not have been the first spiritual leader in established organised religion to have used the church as a cover for his crimes.
Many are still processing the level of child abuse and cover up that has been found in many churches across the wider world. However this leads us to the second element of these crimes which may explain why there is yet to be an in-depth podcast about them. Elder abuse. Elder abuse happens, I’ve witnessed it in both my personal and my professional life. It often goes under the radar, sometimes because the elderly person themselves is not able to speak up about it, other times, because they have no one else to speak too. While we may still be coming to terms with child abuse as a society, we have not even begun to come to terms with the abuse of the elderly.
While children can grow up, and be taught to advocate for themselves, set and maintain boundaries so as to avoid repeating situations, it is not the same with our elders. Probably very few of us want to acknowledge when we are robust and healthy that a time will come soon where we may be both physically and mentally infirm, where our social circle has shrunk, and our life has more limitations. Research shows that as people get older they become more comfortable with the idea of death, however death is not the same as having to acknowledge and live with the limitations of the physical body. Nobody wants to be weaker, and it is a frightening prospect, therefore rather than acknowledge this we turn away from elder abuse, and look elsewhere as we have done with many other forms of abuse over the generations.
True crime as a genre has more than one function, it is not only present as entertainment, but is indulged in as often for warning or preperation for future sub-par situations. In the fuction of warning, there are very few true crime stories out there that focus on the way our elderly get abused whether by individuals or wider society, and perhapse we will not be able to get to the stage of really tackling the issues unless we consume more true crime which can address this issue with the sensativity and class of The Sixth Commandment.