*This post contains small spoilers in terms of statistics to do with the case that might alter your viewing experience.*
Des is a three part television mini-series based on the arrest of the Scottish serial killer Dennis Nelson. Debuting on ITV/STV on the 14th September, the show captivated and divided audiences with the horrific details of not only the murders but the investigation.
Dennis, otherwise known as Des, is played by the astounding David Tenant and is joined by fellow cast members Jason Watkins, Daniel Mays and Barry Ward (to name a few). All providing one of their best performances to bring this shocking yet highly interesting story to life.
The show is based on the biography by Brian Masters (played by Jason Watkins in the show) called Killing for Company: The Story of a Man Addicted to Murder and is directed by Lewis Arnold. The series expertly depicts the ongoings of the trial, the manipulative man that was Des and how the media and the economy affect murder investigations in the 1980’s (which is often highly applicable to today).
Not to summarise the show or give a detailed description of it, the series explores Des as a killer openly admitting his crimes and in a lot of ways not being ashamed of them. Tenant’s portrayal is done in such a way that you never side with Des but you also don’t hate him. To put it a better way it is more probable that you don’t understand him therefore you can’t have an opinion on him. A decisive way of acting which I applaud; I often find that serial killers can often be romanticised in such dramas.
Like I mention above, the show details the economic failings of the police force in bringing all of Des’ victims justice. We see that 6 out of at first a suspected 15-16 murders being investigated and proven. However, Dennis later admits to having killed 12, which means 6 murders are left without justice or knowledge. An upsetting reality for the families of those without a son/uncle/cousin/father etc.
This is a reality all too noticeable when the institution that should be running these investigation don’t get the funding to do so. A fact not just applicable to the 1980’s but also to today. The show outwardly highlights the problems associated with money and the justice system. A combination which many think should not be intertwined.
Not only this but the show questions why such a man went undetected by the police for 5 years. After doing some research it doesn’t appear that this question has been outwardly answered, it certainly wasn’t in the show.
What I praise the mini series for is the lack of horrific detail or imagery about the murders. Like Daniel Mays said in an interview, it focuses a lot more on the psychology of Des. So much so that Mays woke up screaming to his wife one night because of the details of the case.
To briefly mention the aforementioned media, it was highly prevalent in the show how much stress they put on the police force. The amount of negativity it put the investigation under, makes you rethink their [the media’s] position entirely. I think in many ways we become so used to seeing such murders, especially such a high profile one like this, documented at an insane rate in the media. However, when does this become intrusive and actually delay the right for justice? On top of this the need to profile the murders in a sexual context was highly prevalent, making it more obvious that homophobia was a huge issue (and still is; the prominent nature of people automatically looking at this case thinking Dennis was doing it out of sexual attraction and desire is and was a huge issue.)
Thus, when combining the media and the economic short fallings of the police force it is no wonder they had to shut the case down. Not because there was insufficient evidence, not from a conflict of interest and certainly not because the arrested wasn’t guilty. It is a sad reality for all involved that such small and technically insignificant factors make such a huge difference in modern policing.
To suggest one final question, does this make you ponder the right for the media to be involved in such cases? Without them do you think the case would have been solved in its entirety? Or does it bring on the thought that people would deem such acts as not important if they weren’t broadcasted to the masses?
I highly recommend watching Des. I had never heard of the case before and with such complex issues being addressed, it is a show both entertaining and informational. Not only because the appearance of David Tenant and Des are eerily similar and his dead-pan acting enhances the storytelling but because it highlights some of the ugly truths of our justice system, which all too often go unnoticed.
Let me know your thoughts below!
‘Des: True Story Behind new ITV Drama […]’ by Rhona Shennan, available here.
‘Daniel Mays: “I woke my wife up screaming because I had a nightmare about Dennis Nilsen”’ by Elizabeth Aubrey, available here.