The BBC’s chilling LGBTQ+ drama The Sixth Commandment is your new true crime obsession

Timothy Spall plays murdered author Peter Farquhar in The Sixth Commandment. (BBC)

BBC One’s upcoming drama series The Sixth Commandment tells the true, harrowing tale of how a deceptively charming student befriended and murdered closeted gay academic Peter Farquhar.

It was a crime that shocked and confused the nation. In October 2015, former teacher, novelist and deeply closeted evangelical Christian Peter Farquhar was found dead in his home in the Buckinghamshire village of Maids Moreton, with alcohol intoxication the suspected cause. He was 69.

More than two years later, in January 2018, Farquhar’s former student and partner, church warden Benjamin Field, then 28, was arrested on suspicion of murder.

After one of the most complex cases seen in British courts in the 20th century, Field was convicted of murder in August 2019 and sentenced to life imprisonment. 

Author Peter Farquhar.
Murdered author Peter Farquhar. (Thames Valley Police)

It transpired that Field had preyed on Farquhar’s loneliness and entered into a fake relationship with him, encouraging the author to change his will and make Field the main beneficiary.

In the months before his death, Field would spike Farquhar’s drinks with bioethanol and poteen, as part of a “gaslighting” plot that led Farquhar to experience hallucinations and question his sanity.

You may like to watch

During the trial, Field admitted he carried out the vile campaign “for no other reason other than it was cruel, to upset and torment Peter – purely out of meanness”.

When Farquhar was too weak to resist, Field suffocated him.

Following the author’s murder, Field moved onto his 83-year-old neighbour Ann Moore-Martin, convincing her that they were in a loving relationship, and persuading her that messages he’d written on her bathroom mirror telling her to hand her house over to him were from God. Moore-Martin died from natural causes in 2017.

Nearly four years on from Field’s conviction, British screenwriting legend Sarah Phelps – responsible for adapting Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, as well as several Agatha Christie novels – is telling the devastating story behind the ultimate betrayal of trust.

Harry Potter actor Timothy Spall will play the “remarkable” and “inspirational” Peter Farquhar in the four-part BBC drama, which will explore the “shocking and brutal case” in great detail – from Field’s initial seduction of Farquhar, to the gaslighting, his death and the gripping trial.

Speaking to Radio Times, Spall revealed that it was the story of loneliness behind the killing that drew him to the part. 

“What’s so tragic is the optimism and hope that was instilled in these elderly people. It’s so much about loneliness and love, and dreams being fulfilled that are actually too good to be true,” he explained. 

Spall was also enticed by the eternal struggle Farquhar had evidently faced between his religion and his closeted sexuality.

“Within Peter, I saw a real tension between somebody trying to reconcile their desires with their faith,” Spall told The Independent. “Within that attempt at reconciliation, that almost denial of the reality of it, along comes the object of a prayer, so perfectly an answer to a prayer that he cannot believe it.

“And I think that is the real deep tragedy of it: that this man who had given up hope for love, finds it. And he died sincerely believing it was still there.”

Timothy Spall in The Sixth Commandment.
Peter Farquhar was a ‘remarkable’ man, actor Timothy Spall says. (BBC)

Alongside Spall, Last Tango In Halifax actor Anne Reid will play Ann Moore-Martin, while Normal People actor Éanna Hardwicke will star as Field. Olivier Award-winner Dame Sheila Hancock will play Farquhar’s friend Liz Zettl, who was 101 when she became a witness at Field’s trial – one of the oldest trial witnesses in history.

“It’s a heartbreaking story of such desperate longing and loneliness but even within the darkness, there is the most astonishing blazing love and courage,” Phelps said back in 2020, when the TV drama series was announced.

“I’m honoured to have been asked to write this drama and to be trusted with the memories and experiences of Peter and Ann’s families.”

The first part of the series will air on BBC One on Monday 17 July. Part two will air on Tuesday 18 July, part three on 24 July, and part four on 25 July. 

Please login or register to comment on this story.