12th Oct2020

‘Des’ DVD Review

by Paul Metcalf

While America has the likes of Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer, it is fair to say that Dennis Nilsen is the United Kingdom’s equivalent. In a new mini-series, Des that just finished airing on ITV and is out now on DVD, David Tennant gives a chillingly brilliant performance playing the mild mannered man who took so many lives.

After the grisly discovery of what appear to be human remains in a house’s drainage system, the police soon arrest Dennis Nilsen. The seemingly normal middle aged man is soon charged with the murder of twelve men. Through the investigation though, Nilsen’s evil games continue as he tries to one up the police in his desire to basque in the glory of his monstrosities.

For anybody who knows about the case of Dennis Nilsen, it would probably come as a surprise that a mini-series could be put together that could handle the details of what the man actually did. What Des does well though is to concentrate on the investigation after his capture and to fully give the viewers the portrait of a truly evil man, who even after capture continued to manipulate people for his pleasure.

Fans of David Tennant will somewhat be shocked at the transformation that Tennant goes through to become Nilsen, this is not “our” Doctor Who on show here, but a truly different creature. Tennant manages to create a character that puts the audience at unease. We don’t really look at any redeeming qualities for the man, even his love of his dog doesn’t manage to do this. He may show concern for his ageing companion, but in ways the dog, his own companion shows the true problem of Nilsen himself.

Des is based on the book Killing for Company by Brian Masters who actually features in the show as a character played by Jason Watkins. The title of the book in many ways hints as to the macabre reasoning of Nilsen’s crimes. He spent time with the bodies of his victims, and goes into detail in the show just what he did. He comes across as a lonely but selfish man who shows little caring for anybody else, but a dog who has never left his side. His victims are not something he shows remorse for because he was merely using them.

What helps Des become such a good show is the acting quality on show. Not only do we have David Tennant and Jason Watkins but also Daniel Mays as Peter Jay, the man who fought so hard to fight for justice for Nilsen’s victims. It is fair to say that the entire cast of the show are equally as good, especially Chanel Cresswell (This is England) who plays Lesley Mead, who gives another stand out performance.

The important thing that Des actually manages to do is to pull the focus on what is truly tragic, and that is the victims of Nilsen. There is no glorifying what Nilsen did, we feel for these men who were only looking for help help or company from a seemingly nice man. At no point are we allowed to forget that the victims are what matter, not a monster sat in his jail cell reading the papers in the hope that he’ll gain more notoriety.

Des is not a show that lingers on the murders that Nilsen did, or provides any gore for those looking for a simple horror show. What we are given instead is a psychological look at a killer who is more scary than anything we can hide under the bed or in the closet. He is proof that there are scarier things in this world than what we can put in horror films and the worst part? They are real. David Tennant’s performance feels like it is worthy of awards, and it’ll take some time to forget Des, and that is hallmark of a truly great show.

***** 5/5

Des is out now on DVD from Dazzler Media.

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