OUTRAGE would appear these days to be my default emotion. Week after week, the programmes — not to mention the unfolding news — that most require comment and analysis in this column engender anger, shame, and disgust in their depiction of what humans can do to one another.
The Reckoning (BBC1, four episodes, from 9 October) told the story of Jimmy Savile, national hero, popular saint, and industrial-scale paedophile and sexual abuser. It was grounded in the testimony of four of his victims; more than a decade after his death and subsequent shaming, they still bear deep psychological scars. Was another exposé necessary? Would it not be a salacious raking over of matters already documented? And how dare the BBC, which, for decades, championed Savile and constantly covered up accusations of his wrongdoing, seek expiation through this mea culpa?
These objections were not sustained: the actual abuse was never shown, merely its appalling effect, as impressionable young people, excited by Savile’s paying them attention, became withdrawn, frightened, and consumed by shame and guilt after what he did to them. And the BBC is shown as pathetically pusillanimous, covering up and burying all rumours about its star performer’s misdemeanours, pursuing ratings at all costs.
Savile hoodwinked every other national institution. The Royal Family, Margaret Thatcher, the NHS, even Pope John Paul II — all were mesmerised by his self-promotion and astonishingly energetic charitable work, raising £40 million for genuinely good causes. He seems to have tried to bargain with God, whose literal judgement he greatly feared: if only he did enough good works, then his sexual predations would be forgiven.
Besides more evidence of the infinite ability of evil to undermine trusting, good people, and the appalling corrosion of innocence, this was outstanding television. Steve Coogan’s impersonation of Savile was remarkable: believable in every disgusting note of vanity, bullying, prevarication, devious manipulation, and total absence of compassion and empathy for those whose lives he ruined.
In Boiling Point, BBC1’s four-part drama set in the kitchen of a high-class restaurant (Sundays from 1 October), all the dramas and tensions of pursuing the highest standards of cooking, while dealing with the deep imperfections and chaotic lives of your team, not to mention the impossible public clamouring for your food, were present. Brilliantly acted, it ought to be utterly compelling — and yet I found it curiously unengaging.
The first episode of Interview With the Vampire (BBC2, Thursday of last week) concluded with a church hideously desecrated by bloody body parts, after a confession-based eruption of appallingly graphic violence. When not dripping with gore, this is a stylish and quirky drama set in New Orleans in the 1910s: fantasy rather than documentary (I hope).