Based on a true story, this is a captivating tale of passionate love and violent death in 1850s Dorset. In 1856, Martha Brown was publicly hanged for the brutal murder of her husband. Among those who witnessed her death was a sixteen-year-old local lad, and the memory of her execution haunted him for the rest of his life. Corresponding to a friend many years later, he wrote thus: "I remember what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain, and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half-round and back". The writer was Thomas Hardy.
Martha Brown was an ordinary woman of humble parentage, probably illiterate. Very little is known about her. Despite a small team of dedicated researchers delving into old records and original sources to try and piece together her life story, she remains tantalising and elusive, seemingly exercising a strange and powerful spell, even from the grave. We do know that John Brown was her second husband. His age on the marriage certificate is given as twenty-one; Martha's as forty-one. Why did John and Martha marry? After all, she was twenty years his senior - not commonplace in the 1850s. It is easy to see why Martha might have married a handsome, younger, virile man. Why did he marry Martha? Some people have suggested it was for money. Did the age difference that eventually led him into the arms of a much younger and prettier girl lead to jealousy, a precipitating factor in the tragedy - if Martha did indeed kill John?