Steve Coogan has taken the interesting, and challenging, career decision to play Jimmy Savile in The Reckoning. If you are an Outposter from outside the UK then you may wonder who Jimmy Savile was. Be warned, it is not pleasant reading.
Savile was a British DJ, television presenter, and media personality. He presented prime-time television shows and prime radio slots throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Known for his flamboyant and, at times, eccentric personality he also raised over £40million for charity throughout his career, particularly Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where he volunteered throughout his career.
This led to him becoming something of a darling of sections of the UK media, and with the establishment. He was knighted in 1990 for his philanthropy, becoming Sir Jimmy Savile.
However, there were also rumors that he was something of a “wrong ‘un”. Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) famously claimed to have been banned from the BBC after attempting to out Savile’s actions, which he alluded to in an interview, as far back as 1978.
Many of these rumors were put down to his eccentric behavior and somehow nothing ever came of the stories. They just went away. Even British documentary maker Louis Theroux, who managed to peel back the layers of Savile’s personality in a noted documentary and series of interviews with Savile in his later life, didn’t manage to confirm these hushed whispers about him.
Saville died in 2011 with his reputation still largely intact. Then in October 2012, almost a year after his death, an ITV documentary examined claims of sexual abuse by Savile.
This led to extensive media coverage and the situation exploded as more and more people came forward as victims of Savile. Accusations ranged over six decades and claimed he was a sexual deviant and a predatory pedophile.
Allegations were made of failures of duty to protect across several public bodies including the NHS, the BBC, the Department of Health, and the Crown Prosecution Service. This led to rumors and allegations he was somehow protected.
More than 400 lines of inquiry based on the testimony of 300 potential victims via 14 police forces across the UK were lodged, pointing to this celebrity being the most prolific sex-offender in British history.
Allegations of sexual assault against minors were joined by allegations of sexual misconduct against patients at hospitals where he volunteered, which included psychiatric wards for very troubled young children, and even some very grim and dark activities in hospital morgues.
There is no doubt that Savile is a disgustingly fascinating creature, in the same way that a serial killer can make an interesting subject for a movie or documentary. Managing to hide in plain sight, in high profile, for decades points to a high functioning predator.
Stories that have come out since his death point to a devious and calculating evil mastermind who was very cautious about the people he let get close. He would identify people he classed as gullible, those who would believe everything he said.
Others, he would seemingly attempt to obtain leverage on for something in their lives and gain a lasting hold over them. He made a pretense of being close friends to many but in reality, other human beings meant very little to him.
In short, his entire facade was a giant act, a mask. The television gigs, the charity work, the volunteering at hospitals including unsociable late shifts when the staffing levels were light, were all allow him access to what he needed to satisfy himself. An absolute monster, calculating and manipulative, of the highest order.
So, despite the subject matter, you can perhaps appreciate why Coogan would see the challenge in bringing this terrible character to the screen. It is brave but bound to be controversial.
The Reckoning will explore Jimmy Savile’s life and his horrific acts. It is written by Neil McKay who recently received huge praise for his drama Four Lives, which followed the victims of ‘Grindr Killer’ Stephen Port.
Images have been released showing Coogan as Savile in one of his trademark tracksuits as he attempts to grope a young girl who is sleeping rough, after he discovered her while out jogging.
One of the most controversial aspects of The Reckoning is that it is on the BBC, which is the organization primarily held as being responsible for providing Savile with a degree of legitimization, and for clearly not properly investigating a series of allegations at the time.
This has led to accusations that the BBC is attempting to somehow absolve itself of association in Jimmy Savile’s crimes by presenting this critical view of the monster. The BBC released a statement saying:
“The team are working closely with many people whose lives were impacted by Savile to ensure their stories are told with sensitivity and respect, and the drama will also draw on extensive and wide-ranging research sources.
‘It will examine the impact his appalling crimes had on his victims and the powerlessness many felt when they tried to raise the alarm.”
With the BBC currently embroiled in a culture war row that has placed its license fee, their primary source of funding, under threat they will have to tread carefully here.