Aired in September 2020, ITV’s Des is a three-part miniseries that tells the true story of Dennis Nilsen (David Tennant), the Scottish serial killer who was arrested in 1983. When Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay (Daniel Mays) is called to the leafy North London address, he discovers the drains clogged with rotting flesh and bones. As he waits for Nilsen to return from work, he expects the culprit to deny accountability. But when Nilsen freely admits that it’s not just one or two bodies but “15 or 16”, the police must work quickly to try to secure a conviction and identify the victims, as biographer Brian Masters (Jason Watkins) begins a game of chess with `Des’ in an attempt to understand his motives.
David Tennant gives a chilling but utterly phenomenal performance as the real-life serial killer in this gripping true-crime drama. He paints an excellent portrait of the titular character, from his attitude to his mannerisms, which is supported by a confident script that captures the fascinating truth behind the experiences of those involved in the case.
I watched a documentary about Nilsen straight after watching this series and the similarities are so clear. Not only does Tennant play the role so perfectly, but the series brilliantly captures everything from the dialogue to the emotional conflicts of the detectives.
It’s a shocking story, but it’s also so interesting to see how Dennis behaved during the investigation and to take a look into his mindset. We love watching dramas about real-life monsters, but the series doesn’t gloss over the fact that Nilsen was a truly terrible person, highlights his psychopathic tendencies through the conversations he had with others.
I especially enjoyed the scenes between Nilsen and his biographer, who is played by Jason Watkins. This is also a great role for Daniel Mays, who I’m always a big fan of, and both actors support the series well.