A BBC drama starring Steve Coogan is set to trace the life of sexual predator Jimmy Savile who used his position as one of the UK’s best-known TV and radio personalities to abuse children and adults.
Posthumous investigations after Saville’s death 2011 revealed that he had been a prolific sex offender, amassing hundreds of allegations of rape and sexual assault of children and adults over a number of decades.
The scale and severity of his abuse shook the nation, and the survivors of his crimes have had to come to terms with the fact that, since allegations about Savile were only properly investigated after his death, he never faced justice.
An ITV documentary titled Exposure: the Other Side of Jimmy Savile, broadcast in October 2012, a year after Savile’s death, first revealed allegations of the serious sexual assaults.
Now, a decade later, The Reckoning will follow Saville’s early years in the dance halls of northern England, his career with the BBC, through to the latter years as he tried to dispel the growing rumours about his life behind the scenes.
“To play Jimmy Savile was not a decision I took lightly,” says Coogan.
“Neil McKay has written an intelligent script tackling sensitively a horrific story which – however harrowing – needs to be told.”
As the details of Savile’s abuse unravelled, it became apparent he’d used his position in many organisations – including the BBC, hospitals, prisons and charities – to legitimise himself as he hid his crimes in plain sight.
“The purpose of this drama is to explore how Savile’s offending went unchecked for so long, and in shining a light on this, to ensure such crimes never happen again,” says Jeff Pope, executive producer at ITV Studios, which made the show for the BBC.
“Steve Coogan has a unique ability to inhabit complex characters and will approach this role with the greatest care and integrity.”
Speaking on Channel 4, Coogan says there had been a “great deal of antipathy toward me doing it when it was announced”.
“I understand people’s antagonism about the whole idea,” he says, though he maintains that it was done in consultation with many of the victims of Jimmy Savile.
Each episode of The Reckoning will be bookended by interviews with four of Savile’s victims, whose assaults have been dramatised in the series.
These survivors are able to be shown because they’ve waived their right to lifelong anonymity as victims of sex crimes, though this automatic anonymity means that for many other stories, composite characters and scenes are used.
Nevertheless, for the creators who combed through hundreds of stories, a harrowing pattern emerged that painted a gut-wrenching picture of the scope of Savile’s crimes.
“The Reckoning is a unique opportunity to give Savile’s survivors, the people who inspired this project, a voice,” director Sandra Goldbacher said.
“I feel sure that Steve Coogan’s powerful performance as Savile will create a debate around how the cult of celebrity cloaked him from scrutiny.”
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