Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Life For A Life: The True Story Of Stefan Kiszko (1998) - FilmReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash
"At the right time, in the right light, everything is extraordinary"

Stefan Kiszko Image

"Maudsley's career began with A Life For A Life. He was the perfect choice for the demanding role."

The murder of 11 year-old Lesley Molseed, born Lesley Anderson, would reach its ultimate conclusion thirty years later, in 2007. She was killed in 1975, by comic book store owner Ronald Castree. The question raised: why did it take so long for her murderer to be brought to justice? Well, for many of those years an innocent man had been jailed for the crime instead. Stefan Ivan Kiszko, a tax clerk, was to become a victim of injustice and gross negligence.

In 1998, his story was told via a brand new televised drama, entitled A Life For A Life, directed by Stephen Whittaker (who had once appeared in the 1968 Doctor Who serial The Web of Fear). Actor Tony Maudsley (Benidorm) starred as Kiszko while American actress Olympia Dukakis was cast in the role of his mother Charlotte.

If I could compare the heartbreak of this case to another, then it would be that of 10 Rillington Place and Timothy Evans, who was hanged for murders committed by serial killer John Christie. Though Kiszko wasn't hanged, the terrible incarceration he endured was so cruel that it is difficult to forgive those whose actions - or lack of - made it possible for the 10-2 verdict in 1976 at Leeds Crown Court. Had certain evidence been produced at his trial, it is clear that Kiszko's innocence wouldn't have been in question. He wasn't guilty, pure and simply.

It didn't help that Kiszko was both mentally and emotionally challenged. During police questioning he wasn't invited to ask for a solicitor, and a request for his mother to be present was refused. While most of us would never admit to a crime we didn't commit, Kiszko believed that if he admitted guilt he would be allowed home. It was a naive attitude but one that fitted in with his way of thinking. Sadly, those who wished to secure a conviction took advantage of his naivety.

Maudsley's career began with A Life For A Life. He was the perfect choice for the demanding role. I dare anyone to watch this film and not feel something for Kiszko. Reviews for the drama have been positive. At the time of broadcast I was living in Northwich, and I remember clearly the emotions that it aroused: I was sick with anger and sadness, not just for Kiszko but for his devoted mother, too! Ultimately, two lives that were destroyed because of a miscarriage of justice.

At time of writing this review, the DVD is difficult to get hold of, having been discontinued for so long. Thankfully I had been fortunate to purchase from a private eBay seller. At last glance someone was selling a copy for £199.99 on Amazon UK!

Lesley Molseed's murder should never be forgotten. A Life For A Life does contain scenes that are upsetting, as we learn much about how she died and graphic descriptions of the crime scene (Rishworth Moor in West Yorkshire) and body. Forensic testing produced results that proved irrefutably that someone other than Kiszko had ejaculated over her clothing, however this crucial evidence was never submitted in court! So, while an innocent man was being railroaded, the girl's true killer remained free.

Kiszko's life in prison was harrowing - in addition to physical assaults from fellow inmates he suffered deteriorating mental health and schizophrenia. He received little sympathy from guards, who believed him to be a child killer. One can only try to imagine how he must have felt. On the outside his mother never gave up fighting on his behalf, even though she came up against indifference from politicians and the legal system in general. Eventually Charlotte Kiszko was put in touch with solicitor Campbell Malone (portrayed by Tony Pritchard). This would be a turning point in the case, which was reopened in 1991. Inconsistencies were established, and previous evidence from teenage girls who had accused Kiszko of exposing himself to them, in 1975, admitted lying in court saying they thought it fun at the time to make up such stories.

He was released in 1992, having spent 16 years behind bars. But this was not to be the end of a sad story: Kiszko died of a heart attack the following year, he was only 41 years-old. His mother Charlotte passed away four months later. They are buried at Rochdale Cemetery, Lancashire.

A Life For A Life is both outstanding drama and a touching portrayal of Kiszko's survival through madness. Considering it was released in 1998, there is no mention of Ronald Castree. Perhaps, if it ever sees a re-release, an accompanying documentary updating the case would be the perfect addition...

Writer Peter Berry won the 1998 RTS (Royal Television Society) award for "Best Screenplay"; while Maudsley won the RTS award for "Network Newcomer - On Screen". Further reading, check out Picture Palace.

Follow @AlwynAsh on Twitter. Image source courtesy of Celtic Films Entertainment/Picture Palace. Article © Alwyn Ash 2015. Quotes (if applicable) used for publicity purposes only. No infringement of copyright is intended.