Interview: Gemma Whelan on new HBO Max drama ‘The Murders at White House Farm’

 six part factual drama, White House Farm, produced by New Pictures, revolves around one fateful night in August 1985 when five members of the same family were murdered at an Essex farmhouse; Sheila Caffell, her twin six-year-old sons, Daniel and Nicholas, and her parents, Nevill and June Bamber.

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It is based on extensive research, interviews and published accounts including, ‘The Murders at White House Farm’ by Carol Ann Lee with additional material from ‘In Search of The Rainbow’s End’ by Colin Caffell, husband of Sheila and father to Daniel and Nicholas Caffell.

Essex Police initially believed that Sheila, who had mental health problems, had murdered her own family before turning the gun on herself. But Detective Sergeant Stan Jones had doubts about the murder-suicide theory, and about Sheila’s brother Jeremy Bamber, who first called the police to the farm. 

Eventually, it was Jeremy Bamber who was charged and convicted of the murders of his own parents, sister and nephews. Bamber is currently serving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. He is one of the few prisoners in the UK subject to a whole-life order. Bamber still maintains his innocence.

Had you heard about this case before the role came along?

“I had never come across it before this role came along. I did as much research as I could before filming and then it was just a matter of relying on the scripts.”

What character do you play?

“Ann Eaton is Jeremy Bamber’s cousin. I think she always found him quite difficult. She was pivotal in alerting the police to the way he behaved after the murders and other aspects they overlooked when originally deciding this was a case of murder-suicide with Jeremy’s sister Sheila taking the blame. She knew there was no way Sheila could have done it. Ann made people look again at the case.”

How would you describe Sheila Caffell?

“Sheila was troubled at a time when mental illness wasn’t as well understood or talked about as it is today. The understanding we would give now to someone who had come from where she had come from and what she had dealt with would be very different. She would be really cared for now and not just injected with something to be kept quiet. At the time that was deemed appropriate.”

What was it like working with Freddie Fox, who plays Jeremy Bamber?

“Working with Freddie is brilliant. He is so sweet, charming and nice and then you do a scene with him and he suddenly switches into this chilling character. I was already a big fan of his. Then to find he was such a nice person to work with was great. I think he will get a lot of praise for his performance in this. It’s a very well judged performance.”

What are your thoughts about the initial police investigation into the murders? “Ann became very frustrated because the police had decided it was a case of murder-suicide with Sheila as the killer and would not listen to her suspicions. The crime scene at White House Farm was not preserved, things were moved around and evidence burned. “The police investigation was completely botched from the start. There was a bloody minded attitude that the police felt certain they knew what had happened and wanted to close the case as soon as they could to move on from the media spotlight.”

The Murders at White House Farm comes to HBO Max this September. In the UK you can stream it via itv HUB.