In a role far from Broadchurch’s experienced detective DI Alec Hardy, David Tennant becomes notorious Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen in this new three-part ITV drama.
The gripping drama takes us to 1983, introducing us to the homelessness crisis which left people of all ages vulnerable and in need of food and shelter. Among these were Nilsen’s victims. The police are called to a block of flats in Muswell Hill after a plumber finds a drain has been blocked by, what is discovered to be, human remains. It later transpired that Nilsen made the complaint himself and immediately confessed when the police asked where the rest of the body is – “it’s in the cupboard”. Unlike other crime dramas, the killer is revealed in the first ten minutes of the first episode – leaving audiences wondering what more the series could have to offer. The answer is a disturbing insight into the deranged and twisted psyche of Dennis Nilsen.
The drama is based on Brian Masters’ book Killing for Company. Taking over five years to develop, the story is incredibly faithful to the source material. Masters even appears in the show played by Jason Watkins, who became Nilsen’s confidant.
Most crime dramas sell their story using brutal flashbacks, violent scenes, and disturbing real footage. Des surpasses these with no twists and turns, a cooperative serial killer who does not stop talking to the police and focuses on Nilsen’s heinous narcissism. It would be an understatement to say that Tennant’s portrayal is the star of the show. Known for likeable and somewhat chaotic characters including Good Omen’s Crowley and, of course, Doctor Who, his likeability is a perfect fit for the “kindly killer” who preyed on the vulnerable. Tennant’s unconcerned and collected demeanour when describing how he murdered his victims is as blasé as asking someone to pass you the sugar.
Des also does a fantastic job highlighting the vulnerability of Nilsen’s victims. As the series shows, news coverage at the time named him the “homosexual killer” demonstrating how synonymous being gay was with danger at the time. Des explores the stories of a couple of survivors who were approached by Nilsen, offered drugs, alcohol, food, and shelter. Despite abhorrent headlines, including a reporter who verbally abuses a survivor saying “he should have killed you, you queer”, Nilsen’s victims and survivors were, above all, innocent.
If you missed Des you can catch it on ITV Hub.