It’s no surprise that television commissioners can’t get enough of Jimmy Savile. Even in the world of true crime, where the most twisted and unfathomable acts are routinely picked apart with grim fascination, Savile’s case is unlike any other, both in scale and sheer hideousness. The latest project to tackle is Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Storya gritty two-part documentary out today on Netflix.
Directed by Rowan Deacon (in a vast improvement in profile from her earlier work, which included a.o The case of Sally Challen and The pipe) The series is on the more tasteful side of the spectrum of true crime documentaries. It’s clear that documentarians feel the need for a narrative – but how do you neatly tell six decades of rampant abuse in just two and a half hours? The answer is mostly to avoid many of the specifics of Savile’s crimes, save for a few cases. Instead, the focus is on Savile’s own public persona, how he evaded punishment and was eventually exposed posthumously.
It’s heavy on the archive clips from Savile himself, though A British Horror StoryHis most effective moment comes in the form of a really, really devastating testimony from one of his victims, who was repeatedly attacked by Savile when she was a teenager. At this point, the documentary is understated and effective, presenting the facts without editing and simply allowing a victim to speak up. It’s a shame, then, that elsewhere the documentary falls into the same sensationalist clichés that plague so much of Netflix’s true-crime content.
A British Horror Story recognizes the complicated and far-reaching circumstances surrounding Savile’s crime and cover-up: his collaboration with influential politicians and police officers; its aggressive processuality; the extent to which its victims were simply dismissed as part of a broader “groupie culture” that permeated the music industry in the 1960s and 1970s. However, it is not of sufficient scope to fully examine these questions. Fingers may be pointed at the friends, colleagues, and members of the media who made his behavior possible, but they are never really questioned.
A British Horror Story also indulges in some of the more garish aesthetic tropes of modern true crime documentaries. There are superfluous talking head interviews. Dark, troubled violins underline parts of the story. A 2009 police interview questioning Savile about his crimes is re-enacted with voice actors; There’s something unsettling about listening to a (rather uncanny) Savile Impressionist read his true answers with performative flair.
At the end of the documentary we are left with only sadness and anger; there is obviously no catharsis to be found. Savile’s case raises numerous questions that cannot be answered in a two-part documentary – about the nature of evil and the complicity of the British establishment. Sometimes it just feels too monstrous to be spun into Netflix entertainment. This is not a horror story, but a dark, unbelievable tragedy.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/jimmy-savile-netflix-british-horror-story-b2052491.html Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story Review – A true crime story too monstrous for the format