This review will keep anything potentially spoilery out of the equation. Yes, it’s all based on the true story, but I made sure not to look up anything about Nilsen prior to watching this, and so I’m also granting that to anyone reading this prior to broadcast, and I recommend you do the same.
As this begins, on February 9th, 1983, the police turn up on his doorstep and want to talk to him about finding human remains in his drains, with DCI Peter Jay (Daniel Mays – Code 404) blatantly asking, “Where’s the rest of the body?”, causing Nilsen to direct them to the cupboard where there’s rather more evidence. As his cop partner, DI Steve McCusker (Barry Ward) asks him, “So, are we talking about one body or two?”, Nilsen casually replies, “15 or 16… I think”.
And when asked about how he explains the remains they found, Nilsen takes a drag of his cigarette and replies, “In what context?” – all without a hint of irony, and his mood never changes throughout. He knows he’s been caught, but it’s all down to how much information he gives the police along with how much they can discover in their investigation.
Other examples of his standoffishness comes when he’s asked by Jay, “How many bodies did you have in the house at any one time?”, to which he replies, “I never kept a stock check”.
And why did he do this? “I don’t really know… I was hoping you could tell me that”. In fact, he doesn’t feel remorse because they “live with me” in his head.
But while the topic is disturbing, when we take a first visit to the pathologist, who states the dissection of a body has been done to a great skill, while a head was boiled beyond all recognition, anyone squeamish of gore doesn’t need to look away because you don’t see much, if anything, of the corpses.
Thrown into the mix is writer Brian Masters (Jason Watkins – McDonald & Dodds) who, with his partner, discuss how Nilsen is that kind of man you wouldn’t think twice about if you saw him in the street, yet he’s committed these ghastly crimes. This all leads him going to visit the killer in prison, wanting to write a book about him, yet Nilsen would rather divert the topic to talking about what other people think of him, and about them making profits at his expense. Masters later wrote the book, Killing For Company, on which this is based.
Although this is based on a true story, there’s tension in how certain scenes and cases play out, and there are fantastic scenes between Tennant and Mays, leading to powerful confrontations, and Jason Watkins always makes for good support.
The acting is spot-on from all concerned and, as this is 1983, and everyone smokes like a chimney – even in the office, this is sometimes to the point where you can almost smell it. However, when it states as it begins that “Some characters have been changed, and some have been created for the purposes of dramatisation”, I would like clarity on exactly how much that is the case.
Watching a 1993 interview with Dennis Nilsen, below, David Tennant has the look perfect, although Tennant’s Scots accent is far stronger, so he should’ve toned that down. However, if you’re going to watch this drama, wait until it concludes before checking out the interview, so as to avoid any details about the case which are discussed in the drama which I’ve avoided going into here because, y’know, spoilers.
Finally, there was a curious observation from him in the drama where he states, “It’s up to the jury to decide whether I’m just bad, or outrageously bad.”
After broadcast, each episode will be on the ITV Hub.
Series Score: 9/10
Director: Lewis Arnold
Producer: David Meanti
Writer: Luke Neal
Created by TV by: Luke Neal, Lewis Arnold
Dennis Nilsen: David Tennant
DCI Peter Jay: Daniel Mays
Brian Masters: Jason Watkins
DSI Chambers: Ron Cook
DI Steve McCusker: Barry Ward
Linda Jay: Faye McKeever
DC Brian Lodge: Ben Bailey Smith
Charlotte Proctor: Bronagh Waugh
Tilly: Laura Elphinstone
DS1: Alex Bhat
DS Chris Healey: Jay Simpson
Lesley Mead: Chanel Cresswell
Carl Stottor: Laurie Kynaston
Allan Green QC: Jamie Parker
Ivan Lawrence QC: Pip Torrens
Emily: Amaka Okafor
Mike Cattran: Tony Way
Ronald Moss: Stuart McQuarrie
Professor David Bowen: Jonathan Coy
Tim Wells: Joel Morris
News correspondent: Andy Jaye
Juan: Oscar Garland
Neil Sinclair: Cal Macaninch
Elizabeth Sinclair: Pauline Turner
Douglas Stewart: Ross Anderson
Frances: Beth Goddard
Jury Foreman: Tor Clark
Dr Hardy: Andrew Woodall
Judge Croom-Johnson: Ken Bones
Clerk of the Court: Neil Edmond
Douglas Stewart: Ross Anderson
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.