The Reckoning review

The Reckoning review: BBC One drama about Jimmy Savile will make your skin crawl – and it’s supposed to

Steve Coogan's portrayal of the TV paedophile will leave you uncomfortable

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It’s been nearly three years in the making, but Jimmy Savile drama The Reckoning has finally arrived on BBC One – and here’s my review after watching all four episodes.

In October 2020, ED! first told you that the BBC had commissioned a four-part mini-series about the life of the disgraced TV star. In a statement, executive producer Jeff Pope said: “I think this is a story that has to be told.

“We must understand why a man like Jimmy Savile seemed to remain immune for so long to proper scrutiny and criminal investigation.”

The channel later confirmed that Steve Coogan would play the paedophile. Unsurprisingly, there were many who felt outraged at the prospect of such a drama series. One asked: “Do we really want to be reminded of this evil foul man?”

And that’s up to the viewer. But there’s several very important reasons to tune in…

Steve Coogan as Jimmy Savile in The Reckoning
Steve Coogan as Jimmy Savile in The Reckoning (Credit: ITV Studios/Matt Squire)

The Reckoning review: It gives the victims a voice

There are many who might wonder why the BBC had to make a drama series about Jimmy Savile. I think we can all agree he was a vile man, who committed heinous acts of abuse – against the living and the dead – during his 84 years of life.

I, too, felt the same. Why dredge it up? But, the producers of the series have done what they set out to achieve – to give the victims a voice. For years, Jimmy Savile’s victims weren’t believed. In fact, victim Susan, who appears in the series, reveals she was laughed at when she told people of the abuse.

Well, no one is laughing now. Four of Savile’s victims appear in the drama series. The BBC has said that the drama is intended to “give voice” to his victims, and it does. Susan, Darien, Sam, and Kevin all appear as interviewees, and were consulted throughout by the writer Neil McKay and the executive producer Jeff Pope.

Yes, this is a dramatisation with actors playing real life people. But it’s based on very real events, with real people affected. The footage of the four victims is a constant reminder of Savile’s crimes.

Susan admits her abuser was a “dirty old man” and she “was pleased when he died”. Kevin says to the camera: “Jimmy Savile groomed the whole nation.”

Meanwhile, Darien begs “not to let this ever happen again”.

This is not a sensationalist drama, with the intention of glamourising the abuser. This shines a light on how Savile got away with what he did, and isn’t afraid to point the finger at his enablers…

PHILIPPA CARSON plays Susan in The Reckoning on ITV1
Actress Philippa Carson portrays Susan in The Reckoning, but the victim also appears as herself (Credit: ITV Studios)

The Reckoning review: It’s an uncomfortable watch

It should go without saying that The Reckoning on BBC One is an uncomfortable watch. It will give you the serious ‘ick. Your skin will crawl as mine did. But it strikes the right sombre tone, mixing real life footage, with drama.

The question at the heart of the series is how he got away with it for so long. And the four-parter, airing on the BBC, isn’t afraid to lay the blame firmly at its own door. BBC bosses ignored rumours that Savile was an abuser, and promoted him anyway.

It also shows Jimmy Savile given unprecedented access to hospitals, prisons, even Downing Street. Not just because he was a celebrity. He had a way of charming people. And, of course, his serious charity work opened doors for him.

We know now that it was all a way to alleviate his Catholic guilt about his disgusting crimes. The man sexually assaulted young girls during service in chapel. He raped vulnerable teens. He threatened, he cajoled, he abused, and he made “all allegations against him go away”. And he showed no remorse on his death bed, saying: “If I had my time again, I would do nowt differently.”

Steve Coogan and Gemma Jones as Jimmy Savile and his mum Agnes
The Reckoning shines a light on Jimmy Savile’s disturbing relationship with his mum Agnes (Credit: ITV Studios/Matt Squire)

The show did its research

The series is the product of 10 years of research. Most of what is shown is in his own words, thanks to extensive research by his biographer Dan Davies.

Dan spent more than a decade on a quest to find the real Jimmy Savile, and interviewed him extensively over a period of seven years before his death.

In the course of his quest, he spent days and nights at a time quizzing Savile at his homes in Leeds and Scarborough, lunched with him at venues ranging from humble transport cafes to the Athenaeum club in London and, most memorably, joined him for a short cruise aboard the QE2.

Dan possibly knew Jimmy better than anyone. Happy Valley actor Mark Stanley portrays the writer, who came closer than anyone to getting Savile to confess to his crimes.

Meanwhile, The Reckoning writer Neil McKay met many of Savile’s victims, and spent hours compiling a picture of his life. Executive producer Jeff Pope explains: “We’ve been planning this for 10 years. We had to get this right.”

Neil McKay, who also worked on Four Lives, adds: “We speak up in these dramas for ordinary people. They didn’t have a voice.”

The Reckoning review: Steve Coogan is chilling as Jimmy Savile

Steve Coogan’s portrayal of Jimmy Savile in eerily uncanny. There’s nothing comic about it. Yes, more than 30 years ago , he did the voice of Savile for Spitting Image, but the two are imcomparible.

Speaking at the launch of the show, Steve told us: “I didn’t want to do Savile as a pantomime villain. That would have been a disservice to his victims. It was a professional challenge, but I’m doing this to give a platform to the survivors.”

Steve becomes Savile. He gets under his skin, and it’s almost as if you’re watching Savile and not the actor. It’s a compelling performance, with none of the jangling jewellery. It’s triggering yes. And uncomfortable viewing. But it does exactly what it set out to do. Bring the monster back to life to put him on trial. And the verdict is most definitely guilty.

Read more: Jimmy Savile survivors to ‘meet Steve Coogan in character’ on set of BBC drama The Reckoning

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The Reckoning is currently available to watch on BBC iPlayer. Episode 2 airs on Tuesday, October 10, 2023 at 9pm on BBC One.

Do you agree with our review of The Reckoning on BBC One? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page @EntertainmentDailyFix.

Helen Fear
TV Editor