UK, London, 1983. Police detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay (Daniel Mays) is called to a house in Muswell Hill where a plumber who has come to fix a sewer blockage has found bones very similar to human bones in a pipe.
Suspicion immediately falls on the tenant from the top floor – a modest civil servant of the employment center of a certain Dennis Nielsen (David Tennant). Chief Inspector Peter Jay and his partner Detective Steve McCusker (Barry Ward) are waiting for Dennis from work, go to his apartment, and Jay, smelling the characteristic smell of decomposing flesh, immediately asks Dennis on the forehead where the rest of the remains of the body are. “In the closet,” Nielsen replies without batting an eyelid.
He is, of course, immediately arrested and taken to a holding cell. Jay starts interrogating Dennis – he asks to call him Des – and finds out that Nielsen is ready to cooperate with the investigation, and indeed – he is very nice and knows how to win over.
Des said that in the last twelve years he had killed and dismembered fifteen people. He does not remember the names of most of his victims. Basically, these were all sorts of marginals: homosexuals, drug addicts, transvestites and homeless people. Nielsen lured these people into his apartment, drank with them, killed quickly enough and as painlessly as possible, after which he played perverted games with the corpses: he raped them, watched TV with them, slept with them. When the body began to decompose, Des got rid of it one way or another: dismembered the corpse, put the remains in the trash, buried, and so on.
Both the police and the journalists realized that they were dealing with one of the biggest serial killers in England: the media are actively writing about Nielsen and the murders, Jay and his assistants are under pressure from the authorities, demanding that all the dead be identified as soon as possible and bring the case to court.
Journalist and writer Brian Masters (Jason Watkins) became very interested in the Des case and read about it in the newspapers. He wants to try to understand how such a seemingly ordinary person becomes capable not just of murder, but of numerous murders. And why ordinary people like himself live ordinary lives, while people like Des have a carefully hidden dark side of life.
Nielsen does not mind talking with Brian, and he begins to visit Des in prison: he interviews the criminal and thus collects materials for his new book.
This series is based on real events. Indeed, in 1983, the police arrested one Dennis Nielsen on murder charges. Nielsen cooperated with the investigation and confessed to killing fifteen people. Journalist Brian Masters, who had read about Nielsen in the papers, met Des several times and eventually produced a book about him and the story, which he called Murder for Company. Based on this book, the script for the series “Des” was written.
The main driving force behind this series was Lewis Arnold, who at one time was one of the directors of the good series “Misfits” (Misfits). In this series, he is a producer, one of the screenwriters and became the director of all three series.
The genre of the series is psychological drama. Like Brian Masters in his book, the creators of the series explore the nature of the irrationality of evil and try to understand how such a soft-spoken, sympathetic and endearing person like Dennis Nielsen could become a monster who killed and dismembered a dozen people. And why didn’t anything betray this black inside?!
The task before the director Lewis Arnold was quite difficult. The book was not without reason called “Dear Killer”: David Tennant needed to show a really charming person. At the same time, it was impossible to allow Tennant’s character to evoke sympathy, because this person was an absolute evil. He had no reason to kill these people, most of whom were miserable in their own right. He did it for his perverted pleasure.
And he did not repent of this, in general. When both the detective and the journalist asked him why he did it, Des replied that he really could not answer this question, because he himself did not know it. Well, I did and did, so it happened.
When you watch how Des is frank with the investigation, giving them good material for his trial with his own hands, you don’t really understand, but what does he actually lead to? After all, he does not look like a repentant criminal who wants a just punishment. Why then? However, when it comes to the trial, everything is also very interesting there and there are unexpected turns of events (especially since this is not just a fictional plot, but something like this happened at the trial), and at the same time it is very interesting to watch the work of the defense of the accused.
David Tennant is brilliant as Des! Actually, I first of all decided to watch this series because of him and I never regretted it. David plays any role perfectly, his characters are very different, and here we have another very bright, and completely new character: a charming killer. Moreover, the series did not reveal the nature of evil in his soul – in fact, as it was not revealed then, in the eighties, when they tried to investigate everything in detail.
And Tennant showed such a Des – a man who cannot be unraveled. He seems to be open, he cooperates with the investigation, but everything is not so simple with him, or rather, quite difficult, and it is very interesting to watch how he plays his own game.
The second very interesting character is the journalist Brian Masters, in which the writer Brian Masters brought himself out. Masters is very interested in Nielsen, he is also struggling to understand what kind of person he is and what is inside him, but he cannot get to the bottom of the matter: for all the seeming openness, Des is a very mysterious person.
Chief Inspector Jay, investigating this case, was played by Daniel Mays, who, by the way, played with David Tennant in the TV series Good Omens, but, however, Mays had a very small role there. Here I did not like it, but somehow that’s purely subjective. He seemed to play okay, but, in my opinion, Barry Ward, who played his partner, would have looked much better in this role. I don’t know what I didn’t like about Mace, I can’t really describe it. It seemed to me that the actor did not fall into this type.
This is a mini-series, it has only three episodes of 45 minutes each. In fact, it could have been a movie running 2 hours and 15 minutes. There is practically no investigation as such – Des himself gives out the facts to the police, they only meet with the victims who were lucky enough to escape – no shocking details are shown here (although they are told), so this is such a conversational psychological drama with the final trial. From this kind of drama immediately comes to mind “Mindhunter”, where two FBI investigators conduct interviews with serial killers at a time when the phrase “serial killer” itself did not exist yet.
A very good series, I watched it with great pleasure: a great role by Tennant, a good role by Watkins and a good role by Mace. Well put, looks very interesting. For fans of worthy psychological dramas – do not miss this series!
PS And, of course, some real photographs of Nielsen. (He died in 2018, without waiting for the release of the series. I wonder if he would have liked the series Nielsen or not?)
Nielsen during the investigation.
Filming during arrest.
The Making Of Des | Behind The Scenes with David Tennant, Daniel Mays & Jason Watkins
Des / Des movie review
Director: Lewis Arnold Cast: David Tennant, Daniel Mays, Jason Watkins, Ron Cook, Barry Ward, Fay McKeever, Doc Brown, Brona Waugh, Jay Simpson, Alex Bhat
Series, UK, 2020, 45 min. 1 season, 3 episodes