The Sixth Commandment wins praise from viewers for highlighting loneliness: ‘Heartbreakingly brilliant’

BBC series The Sixth Commandment. (BBC)

Audiences have praised the BBC’s LGBTQ+ true-crime drama The Sixth Commandment for highlighting vulnerable loneliness among the older generation.

Created by writer Sarah Phelps (A Very British Scandal) and director Saul Dibb, the first episode of the four-part series aired on Monday evening (17 July) to astonishing reviews.

The series dramatises the shocking story of the true-life murder of former Stowe schoolmaster and deeply closeted evangelical Christian, 69-year-old Peter Farquhar (played by Timothy Spall) by his 28-year-old student and young churchwarden Ben Field (Éanna Hardwicke) in October 2015.

Field, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder in 2019, took advantage of Farquhar’s isolation to start a fake relationship and become the main beneficiary in the older man’s will.

After a calculated months-long campaign of gaslighting and abuse, Field suffocated Farquhar to death, before moving on to his 83-year-old neighbour Ann Moore-Martin (Coronation Street‘s Anne Reid) and her money.

Field was cleared of attempting to murder her.

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Timothy Spall as Peter Farquhar in BBC series The Sixth Commandment.
Timothy Spall as Peter Farquhar in BBC series The Sixth Commandment. (BBC/Wild Mercury/Amanda Searle)

Described by The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan as “impossible to look away [from]” and “a study in the power of faith, loneliness and the endless vulnerability of humanity”, The Sixth Commandment has been widely praised on social media by viewers who commended Spall’s “beautifully layered” performance in highlighting the very real dangers of chronic loneliness, especially among older people.

“This is making me cry: Timothy Spall’s portrayal of loneliness and vulnerability is superb,” one person wrote.

Another reflected: “Spall and Reid effortlessly portray how loneliness in the third age leaves people vulnerable and easy prey to vile entitled men like Ben Field. Is it a stark indictment of our culture, where youth is revered and older age despised.”

A third wrote: “Outstanding, The Sixth Commandment [is] terrifying, moving, beautiful, horrific. The writing, the acting [is] just amazing. The portrayal of loneliness and longing is something else. I hope the victim’s family knows they won’t be forgotten.”

Speaking about his role to the Radio Times, Harry Potter star Spall recalled how he’d been deeply moved by the story of Farquhar’s vulnerable isolation and repressed homosexuality.

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

Spall emphasised that more action was needed to tackle the loneliness epidemic among the elderly community.

“The spotlight has come upon it, perhaps because of COVID-19,” he continued. “But there has always been horrendous loneliness. We all have moments, but some people are wretchedly stuck in it. There’s less stigma about it now, and one only hopes that, in the process of talking about it, something can be done.”

The second episode of The Sixth Commandment will air on BBC One tonight (18 July), with episode three on 24 July and the final instalment on 25 July. All episodes are available to watch on BBC iPlayer now.

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