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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

The Reckoning

If you are among the vanishingly few people left in the country who do not know that Jimmy Savile was an absolutely evil man, then I recommend watching The Reckoning, a dramatisation of his story starring Steve Coogan as the necro-paedophile, OBE.


The Reckoning, a new four-part drama from Neil McKay and Jeff Pope, sees Steve Coogan inhabit the lank silver-haired, cigar-chomping, bejewelled form of the disgraced former disc jockey and knight of the realm, Jimmy Savile. “What you see with me,” Savile tells his biographer Daniel (Mark Stanley), “is what you get.” Except, of course, it isn’t. From the dancehalls of Manchester to the streets of Scarborough – and then, down south to the BBC – Savile leaves victims wherever he goes. “It’s just Jimmy being Jimmy,” his friend Charlie (Mark Lewis Jones) says, with a nervous sigh.


The Reckoning is a rigorously well-made and polished thing. It takes us from 1962, as Savile’s career as a DJ on the northern club circuit began to gain traction, through his years as an increasingly beloved and powerful figure on radio and then television, and on until his much-mourned death in 2011 at the age of 84, untouched and then untouchable by any revelations about his awful secrets.


For some reason, it is interspersed with a lot of archive footage of the real Savile that interrupts the viewer’s engagement. Stopping your tale to remind people that truth and the man at the heart of it were even stranger than fiction is an odd decision.


The scenes in which he terrorises, assaults or rapes girls, young women and occasionally young men – at home, in clubs, in hospitals, anywhere – are handled very well. I don’t think I have seen many dramas that evoke that particular terror so well.


Coogan is brilliant in the role. He is a fine actor as well as a fine impressionist, and the part of Savile gives him the chance to blend the two in perfect proportions. He captures the mannerisms, the voice, the vibe entirely without ever veering anywhere near caricature. He shows us the layers of charm and malevolence slipping and sliding over each other, depending on who was near and what he wanted from them, and then, at certain moments, the core of absolute depravity in whose service they were all deployed.


But The Reckoning does exist in a context. And that context is a world already full of dramas and documentaries – including one very recent, very thorough and harrowing one about Savile – that mine trauma for content. To justify adding to that pile, you have to be adding something really valuable to the subject.


It is a careful recounting of what we already know, and posits no more explanation of how Savile came to be and how he managed to operate untrammelled for so long than we have already learned or would intuit alone. The suggestion, based on scant evidence, that his predilections were due to “the duchess” not loving him enough, as an unwanted seventh child, is to indulge our worst impulses to blame the nearest, easiest person – the mother.


Savile was allowed unfettered access to hospitals and prisons, to editors caving in to pressures to shut down a Fleet Street exposé, and the many other failings by individuals and institutions that turned a blind eye to the red flags he scattered with an increasingly lavish and contemptuous hand.


The show’s conclusion seems to be that he got away with it thanks to a generalised culture that repressed victim’s voices, whether they were coming from discotheques, fish and chip stands, or, you know, the nation’s state-funded, beloved and trusted broadcaster.


The Reckoning is without a reckoning. “Don’t let this happen again,” implores one of Savile’s real-life victims, Darien, in the show’s closing moments. It is a stark, arresting reminder of the stakes involved. But who is this warning for? All of us, watching at home? Or the organisation that both enabled a paedophile and is now turning his life into an entertainment product? It is a distinction the show never draws, and thus it never manages to rise above the cheap lure of voyeurism.



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