CLAUDIA CONNELL reviews Des, ITV's drama portraying confessions of serial ...

David Tennant is terrifying (and terrific) as a real-life Hannibal Lecter: CLAUDIA CONNELL reviews Des, ITV's chilling new drama portraying the twisted confessions of serial killer Dennis Nilsen

By Claudia Connell for the Daily Mail

Published: 22:00 BST, 14 September 2020 | Updated: 23:42 BST, 14 September 2020

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Hannibal Lecter’s declaration in The Silence Of The Lambs that he once ate a census taker’s liver ‘with some fava beans and a nice chianti’ remains one of the most memorable moments in cinematic history. Mesmerising, chilling… but utterly fictitious.

Sitting in a police interview room, all politeness and perfect posture, I felt those same chills as David Tennant portrayed serial killer Dennis Nilsen in what was a breathtaking and careerdefining performance in Des.

Nilsen calmly offered up the details of those he had murdered and then butchered as though he was reeling off items on a shopping list. He even joked about his crimes – if he hadn’t strangled one of the victims, he remarked, then his cooking would probably have killed him anyway.

I felt those same chills as David Tennant (pictured) portrayed serial killer Dennis Nilsen in what was a breathtaking and careerdefining performance in Des

I felt those same chills as David Tennant (pictured) portrayed serial killer Dennis Nilsen in what was a breathtaking and careerdefining performance in Des

The difference is, unlike Lecter, Nilsen existed. His victims – the exact number unknown and many never identified – were very much real. They were runaways, the homeless or those battling addictions who were targeted by Nilsen with promises of shelter and a meal.

In recent years, Britain has developed an endless fascination with serial killers and any TV drama based on a real-life crime is bound to attract a big audience.

But that doesn’t make it any easier to dramatise such sickening crimes without glorifying the killer or causing distress to the victim’s families.

The creators of Des got round this using great sensitivity and painstaking attention to detail. The actors spoke to detectives who worked on the case as well as Nilsen’s former friends and colleagues. No back story was given to humanise him, no extenuating circumstances offered. He was a monster and that was that.

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