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Deceit review: Channel 4 drama offers disturbing look into destructive real life murder investigation

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Niamh stars as police officer Sadie, who goes undercover as ‘Lizzie’ (Picture: Channel 4)

Deceit is a harrowing new Channel 4 drama, telling the true story of an investigation into a horrific murder, when the police used an extremely controversial method in an unsuccessful attempt to nab the killer.

For those who remember the death of Rachel Nickell, this four-part series may bring the memories of the headlines and national horror rushing back, as members of the public were led to believe that a certain man – who turned out to be innocent – killed a young woman in front of her son.

On July 15 1992, Rachel was walking on Wimbledon Common with her two-year-old Alexander when she was brutally stabbed to death. Her son survived.

After months of speculation and mounting public interest, the police were desperate to root out the culprit, with their heads turning towards a man called Colin Stagg who fit a profile of the killer devised by criminal psychologist Paul Britton.

A female undercover police officer adopted the persona of Lizzie James to get close to Colin, enticing him to share fantasies with her of a violent nature that matched the investigative team’s idea of the killer.

While this technique may have seemed innovative to the police officers involved, it was exploitative on several levels, not to mention resulting in the real murderer having ample time to kill again.

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The undercover police officer is advised by a psychologist on how to draw out a confession (Picture: Kevin Baker/Channel 4)

The dramatisation of the real-life events delves deep into the ‘honeytrap’ investigation used to try and ensnare the murderer from the perspective of the female undercover police officer who was used as the bait.

While at times the recollection of the events through ‘Lizzie’s’ eyes may convince viewers that this method was an intelligent ruse, it inevitably spelled disaster for all involved.

Niamh Algar commits herself completely in the role as the undercover officer, who’s named Sadie Byrne in the programme (her real name is protected for legal reasons).

While several of the scenes in the show are created for the purposes of dramatisation, you can feel the nerves, excitement, stress and despair coursing through Sadie’s veins as she tries to do what no other undercover police officer has ever done.

Sadie’s confidence comes and goes in ebbs and flows when she tries to develop a relationship with Colin (Sion Daniel Young) as Lizzie, as she fails to recognise just how large a travesty she and her colleagues are causing.

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Viewers will find themselves doubting what they know about the real life case (Picture: Channel 4)

Eddie Marsan’s depiction of psychologist Paul Britton is as cold and chilling as one would expect, as he analyses every single decision the people in his vicinity make in excruciating detail.

Despite many viewers most likely knowing the true story of Rachel’s murder and thus being aware of how it turned out in the end, Sion’s depiction of the easily swayed Colin is so convincing that audiences may end up doubting what they know of this distressing story.

While the focus of Deceit is the murder of Rachel Nickell, it serves as a stark reminder of the horrifyingly high number of women who are attacked and killed on a regular basis.

The fact that Rachel’s killer wasn’t sentenced for her murder until 2008, 16 years after the police tried to trap Colin, is an injustice that will leave viewers reeling once they watch this story from start to finish.

Verdict on Deceit

Deceit is a gripping depiction of a terrible story, which will leave its audience questioning each character at every turn.

While several of the interactions and characters in the drama have been created for the purposes of the drama, the show feels like an authentic depiction of the manipulation, exploitation and injustice that went on behind the newspaper headlines.

Aside from the dedicated performances of the cast, the main takeaway that viewers will have after watching Deceit will be the feelings of anger and horror over the real life events that occurred.

The first episode of Deceit airs tonight at 9pm on Channel 4 with all episodes becoming available on All 4.

Credit: Original article published here.

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