The case of Jeffrey Gilham is certainly a fascinating one.
It was fascinating enough for Jeff McMullen to front a 1997 story on the case for 60 Minutes, presenting compelling evidence to a TV audience that said Gilham’s brother Christopher had been wrongfully condemned for the murder of their parents in 1993.
Jeffrey pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his brother whom he stabbed to death after claiming Christopher killed his parents in a fit of rage. He walked free on a good behaviour bond in 1995. He also inherited an estate worth over $900,000.
But Jeffrey’s uncle Tony didn’t believe Christopher was capable of murder and waged a campaign to have Jeffrey re-tried for murder. He took his evidence to 60 Minutes, appealed to the Attorney-General, took out a private summons alleging murder, and pleaded with Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen to have the case heard.
This telemovie opens on the night of the act, when Jeffrey Gilham (Michael Dorman) runs from his slumber in a boathouse to the family home in Woronora to find Christopher standing over the body of his dead parents. A bloody fight ensues in which Jeffrey stabs Christopher to death. Uncle Tony (Tony Martin) is distressed when police take him to his nephew. The shock of the family massacre overwhelms everybody.
From the family funeral we fast-forward to 2008 as “mad uncle” Tony shouts abuse at Jeffrey who walked free from a murder trial and a hung jury. No longer believing the manslaughter charge, he is at wit’s end having fought a crusade for 14 years. In screen time it’s a big, and confusing, leap. A sympathetic uncle turns hostile almost from one scene to the next, without explanation.
Cunneen, played by Lisa McCune, doesn’t want to buy into the case. She has a young family wanting a holiday. But Tony Gilham is doggedly persistent and his passion grabs her attention. She begins to delve deeper into the case, visiting the family home, looking over evidence, speaking to those who knew Jeffrey.
Eventually she wins a new trial six months later, and her journey comprises the bulk of this telemovie.
McCune acts as the eyes of the audience in this true-crime whodunnit, turning from skeptic to believer through a jigsaw of clues that paints a new portrait of Gilham. She is confident in the role, if having to work with some material that is less than ideal. One scene of her stabbing a hock of meat in her kitchen to test for stab wounds is a clunker.
Tony Martin turns on the emotion as required in the role of a man who fought the system in his quest to see justice served.
Jeffrey Gilham is played by Dorman without malice, attempting to cast doubt in the audience’s mind over his perceived guilt.
Supporting players include Frankie J. Holden, Jodi Gordon, Cariba Heine, Rick Donald, Denise Roberts and Jonny Pavsolsky.
But for a tale full of intrigue, revenge and justice this telemovie has underwritten the role of the uncle whose crusade for 14 years kept the case from fading. Unlike the father who fought for justice in A Model Daughter: The Killing of Caroline Byrne we are denied the detail of his plight. Omitting the crucial scene when he turned from sympathiser to non-believer overlooks a moment that could have won audience support.
The script by Victoria Madden moves at a sluggish pace and Director Peter Andrikidis leans too frequently on an overuse of slow-motion Underbelly-style storytelling.
Key turning points in the case, including Gilham’s appeals prior on his conviction, are avoided. The choice to present the story through the eyes of Cuneen, rather than Tony Gilham, feels like a lost opportunity, possibly to create a star-vehicle for McCune.
Blood Brothers is the second true-crime telemovie from Playmaker Video for Nine and while it is superior to the melodramatic Wicked Love: The Story of Maria Korp there are others in the genre that deliver more.
Nine’s own Press Release on the synopsis also contains an error, incorrectly naming Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen as ‘Margaret Kennedy’ (in life, as in the dialogue of the telemovie, she is named as Cunneen).
The Gilham case was an intriguing one when Jeff McMullen detailed the inconsistencies on 60 Minutes in 1997. On this occasion it may have been better to leave it as news and current affairs rather than true crime drama.
Blood Brothers airs 8:30pm Sunday on Nine.
UPDATE: Nine advises Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunnen’s name will be changed to ‘Margaret Kennedy’ for the on-air broadcast.