The Reckoning's Newsnight investigation ending poses a problem

steve coogan as jimmy savile, the reckoning
The Reckoning's Newsnight ending poses a problemBBC

The Reckoning spoilers follow.

From start to finish, The Reckoning is chilling viewing.

Worlds away from his slapdash comedic roots as Alan Partridge, a frighteningly transformed Steve Coogan inhabits the eerie red tracksuits of a man now looked upon as the incarnation of evil.

The four-part BBC One drama, which is available to stream in its entirety on iPlayer, charts Jimmy Savile's rise from a disc jockey in Manchester to hallowed entertainer and charity fundraiser, all while committing horrific sexual abuses away from public view.

It’s grim to watch this nightmarish man hoodwink those around him and use charity work as a shield to hide the truth of what he was doing. But what’s equally disturbing is that what is now so obviously a façade of respectability actually worked and allowed him to avoid prosecution for his crimes during his lifetime.

mark lewis jones as charles hulligan, siobhan finneran as beryl mulligan, steve coogan as jimmy savile, the reckoning

From the moment The Reckoning was announced, the BBC and ITV Studios drama has been criticised as both unnecessary and a means of sensationalising a stain on the national psyche which we are still reeling from.

Yet the four hour-long parts are supremely sensitive. Each of the episodes is book-ended with raw and moving testimony from four of Savile's victims: Darien, Susan, Samantha Brown and Kevin Cook.

Their stories are woven into the drama, which, sagely, does not depict any of Savile's abuse, cutting away just as the crawling sensation across your skin starts to become unbearable.

steve coogan as jimmy savile, the reckoning episode 4 ending

But in spite of the tremendous care taken in telling this appalling account – something evident in the number of years it has taken to arrive on our screens after it was commissioned – you can’t help coming away from The Reckoning feeling it could have done more.

After Savile dies at home, reclining in an easy chair with his fingers crossed and a wad of banknotes at his side, the glowing tributes begin to roll in, including a BBC special in which he’s described as "a great British eccentric".

The final episode then culminates with a page of text against a black background. "In November 2011 the BBC broadcast a tribute to Savile on BBC1," it reads. "One month later they shelved a Newsnight investigation that would have included interviews with some of Savile’s victims."

The decision not to dramatise in detail what is one of the most shocking pieces of the Savile story – that even when his history of abuse was uncovered via a Newsnight probe, the broadcast was suppressed – is a curious one.

steve coogan as jimmy savile, the reckoning

When an ITV documentary finally exposed the truth of Savile’s abuse, the unravelling at the BBC was swift and tumultuous. The decision to pull the investigation saw the then-editor of Newsnight step down.

Yet a massive fallout that we’re only a decade removed from is covered in a single caption on-screen. Coming from the broadcaster that made Savile an idol during his life and then shelved that investigation, it feels like a punch pulled.

The BBC by no means comes away from The Reckoning covered in glory. Writer Neil McKay told The Times he felt "no censorship whatsoever" from the broadcaster, while executive producer Jeff Pope said it was "fair" to think the BBC considers this its own reckoning for the abuse Savile committed on its watch.

philippa carson as susan, the reckoning

We’re stuck at Savile’s side in nearly every scene of The Reckoning, following the major milestones of his career in a string of claustrophobic dressing rooms and dingy bedsits. This approach allows us to be with Savile in the moments behind the cigar-smoking exterior, shaping what McKay has described as a cautionary tale of how "the ultimate groomer" hid in plain sight.

But it also occasionally has the feel of a perverse biopic, begging the question of whether we should in fact have more distance from him. The drama sees a BBC investigation and then years later a police probe into his alleged wrongdoing both find him innocent, but we never see the machinations which led these institutions to those conclusions, only Savile’s reaction to the news.

Perhaps it is that proximity to Savile and his crimes throughout the four episodes, followed by no real retribution, which makes the ending feel like something of an oversight.

The immense fallout from Savile’s death and the revelation of his crimes probably warrants its own four-part drama, but in a piece entitled The Reckoning airing on the BBC, you might be left wondering what exactly it is we are really reckoning with here.

The broadcaster doesn’t shy away from its part in legitimising Savile in the minds of the general public, but it is still not damning enough in showing how even Savile’s death was not enough to remove the aura of infallibility from his person at Broadcasting House.

The Reckoning is airing on BBC One and is available to stream on iPlayer.

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