TV miniseries ‘Des’ highlights how homophobia let a killer continue

David Tennant is undoubtedly one of Britain’s great actors and in recent years he’s moved away from playing heroic characters and embraced some darker roles.

Tennant built his career on larger than life characters including the Doctor in Doctor Who, and an enthusiastic turn as Casanova. He starred as a hard working detective in both the British and American version of Broadchurch. In recent years though he’s taken on march darker roles in The Politician’s Husband and Deadwater Fell. 

His current miniseries Des, which began streaming on Stan this week, is his most confronting character yet. Tennant portrays real life serial killer Dennis Nilsen, who murdered up to 15 men over a five year period from 1978 to 1983.

The story is told with great restraint. We do not see any of the murders where Nilsen strangled and drowned a series of men. Many of them were gay, many of them were homeless. Instead the story is told from the perspective of after Nilsen’s arrest, where he calmly describes his list of victims.

As Nilsen tells police he’s relieved to “get it all off his chest” and confess to the multiple murders. Their task force is faced with the challenge of identifying not only his victims, but also hearing from many men who escaped his clutches.

One witness who came forward was Douglas Stewart, who testified that in November 1980, he had awoken in Nilsen’s flat to find his ankles bound and Nilsen straddled across his chest trying to strangle him.

Successfully overpowering Nilsen, Stewart was able to escape. Upon leaving Nilsen’s residence, he had reported the attack to police, who in turn questioned Nilsen. Noting conflicting details in accounts given by both men, police had dismissed the incident as a lovers’ quarrel.

Over the course of the investigation police discovered there were several times interactions with Nilsen had been reported, but as was common at the time, crimes that looked like they involved the LGBTI community were not investigated in great detail.

New episodes of Des are being added each day to Stan   

OIP Staff

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