When it was announced that a play on predatory sex offender Jimmy Savile will be shown on the BBC, it was received with widespread, harsh criticism.
With Steve Coogan headlining the cast of The Reckoning as the legendary DJ, who committed innumerable sexual assaults over decades while rising to notoriety and meeting international leaders, the obvious question was: is this really necessary?
Savile’s acts were unimaginable, leaving a traumatising mark on his victims, their families, and the millions who idolised him. How could it ever be fair to dramatise such a traumatic and still painful memory?
After seeing all four parts of The Reckoning, which incorporates acting with recorded testimonials from real-life survivors who suffered at the hands of Savile, the question of its existence is incredibly difficult to explain in black and white terms.
Watching the series and speaking with those involved in the production – Coogan, executive producers Neil McKay and Jeff Pope, and BBC chief programming officer Charlotte Moore – it’s clear that crafting a tale that acknowledged the survivors was critical to them.
They interviewed a large number of victims – some of whom declined to participate – before deciding on four to have a specific focus in the series, revealing the extent of Savile’s wicked depravity from the beginning of his career to the conclusion of his life.
One cannot relate the narrative of Savile without mentioning the BBC, which has been accused of turning a blind eye to his corruption despite concerns about his actions.
In the scenario, one of the persons in the room for his first in-person encounter with the managers expresses her fear about Savile.
Years later, he was given his own show, Jim’ll Fix It, on which it was reported after his death that he preyed on vulnerable teenage victims.
There will undoubtedly be viewers who believe that the BBC’s decision to air The Reckoning is a way of capitalising on the continued interest in Savile and true crime rather than truly owning up to past mistakes, with some calling the broadcaster a ‘disgrace’ for making it in the first place.
Moore emphasised during a Q&A following a screening that the drama doesn’t hold anything back when revealing how the company was complicit in Savile doing atrocities beneath people’s noses for years.
Viewers will undoubtedly draw their own conclusions from that reasoning, considering that the BBC broadcast a loving tribute to Savile following his death in 2011, and shelved a Newsnight show that would have examined claims made against him.
The Newsnight special is only referenced in a caption at the end of the last episode of The Reckoning, with no emphasis placed on why the BBC never let it be known.
Despite the importance of not forgetting the BBC’s Newsnight failure, the entire goal of this play is to illustrate how Savile was able to get away with grooming and attacking individuals while he was alive, rather than actions that transpired after he died at the age of 84.
There’s no denying that Coogan’s likeness to Savile is striking, from his prosthetics and blonde wig to his mannerisms and startling voice – yet seeing him in character is skin-crawling… … something I could have avoided having seared in my mind.
The camera zooms in on the aghast expressions of juvenile victims when they learn they’re being preyed on by one of the country’s most powerful men, leaving most of the depravity to the viewer’s imagination.
From following a young girl into a room during a church service to conducting unfathomable activities when alone with a dead body in a hospital mortuary, Savile’s infliction of unmitigated anguish on others appears to have no limit.
Even while I admit that I would not have sought out this drama to watch since I do not find it entertaining to watch a series presenting such horrible events that happened to real people, I do recognise The Reckoning’s aim.
Powerful people exploiting their reputation and position to take advantage of others and get away with it unobserved and untouched continues to this day.
In Savile’s case, he never suffered his punishment since he died before his crimes were publicly exposed, despite allegations of his disgusting behaviour circulating for years.
Using Coogan as a technique allowed the producers to emphasise how manipulative he was behind closed doors when the cameras weren’t rolling, all while attempting to pose as a beacon of good in society and obtaining access to even more victims.
While a TV show will never be enough to punish someone as evil as Savile, emphasising how grooming can and does occur in society is an immensely important lesson to take away.
One of the lasting images viewers will be left with after watching The Reckoning is that of one of the survivors, who tearfully says to the camera: ‘Please don’t let this happen again.’
There will undoubtedly be differing opinions on whether The Reckoning should have been created in the first place and if its airing may have a constructive influence on rooting out evil.
Do I believe the logic behind its creation is sound? My thoughts are always shifting from one side to the other. However, if victims and survivors of Savile experience any sense of retribution, peace, or closure as a result of The Reckoning, that may be sufficient reason.
The Reckoning airs on Monday October 9 at 9pm on BBC One, with all four episodes released on BBC iPlayer.
Victim Support offers support to survivors of rape and sexual abuse. You can contact them on 0333 300 6389.