The Reckoning review: BBC's Jimmy Savile drama is a horrific and unsettling watch

The drama premieres on Monday, 9 October

The Reckoning (BBC)
Steve Coogan portrays Jimmy Savile in The Reckoning (BBC)
  • 📺 Where to watch The Reckoning: BBC One and BBC iPlayer from 9 October

  • ⭐️ Our rating: 3/5

  • 🍿 Watch it if you liked: Leaving Neverland, Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story

  • 🎭 Who's in it?: Steve Coogan, Gemma Jones, Robert Emms, Michael Jibson

  • How long is it? 4 x 60 minute episodes

  • 📖 What’s it about? A dramatisation of Jimmy Savile’s life and how the presenter got away with committing multiple unspeakable crimes against children.

“Don’t let this happen again,” Darien, one of the hundreds of children abused by Jimmy Savile, tearfully tells the camera. Her plea comes at the end of The Reckoning, a four-part dramatisation of Savile’s life, and goes some way to explain why the BBC would retread the Savile story, one of the most horrendous tragedies of modern times.

Read more: Steve Coogan expected 'antipathy' over Jimmy Savile role

Documentaries have covered this ground thoroughly, though The Reckoning attempts something different; to showcase, through a mixture of fact-based and fictional scenes, as well as interviews with four of his victims, how Savile got away with criminal offences while maliciously charming his way into Britain’s highest institutions.

The Reckoning (BBC)
The BBC drama examines Jimmy Savile's horrific history of abuse (BBC)

The series, told primarily through flashbacks as Savile is interviewed by journalist Dan Davies, spends its time meticulously reasoning how the presenter deceived BBC bosses, hospital wardens, and Margaret Thatcher, using his charitable exercises to distract from the atrocities being committed.

We equally see him taking advantage of children, luring them into his home and apprehending them backstage. We never see the acts against the children, the camera cuts away, but the implication is horrendous. A later episode even explores Savile’s disgusting behaviour at a morgue.

Read more: What we know about The Reckoning

Steve Coogan inhabits the wise-cracking Savile with uncomfortable ease, some moments infused with Partridge-isms, as Savile weaponises his wit, while others are played like a pound-shop Tony Soprano, like when Savile ordering a bouncer to physically harm a boy who snuck into a nightclub. It’s an uncanny, skin-crawling portrayal that never turns Savile into a pantomime villain.

The Reckoning (BBC)
Steve Coogan inhabits the wise-cracking Savile with uncomfortable ease in The Reckoning (BBC)

A sympathetic viewer could argue this is self-flagellation for the BBC, showcasing how it was tricked by this paedophilic con man, while an unsympathetic one may argue the series lets the BBC off the hook, focussing on Savile rather than analysing the BBC’s own mishandling of the situation.

Indeed, in the second episode, we witness an investigation by the BBC into an incident at Top of the Pops, but no one comes out being blamed; Savile is presented as too ingenious and too powerful to be responsible.

Steve Coogan as Jimmy Savile in The Reckoning (BBC)
Jimmy Savile's abuse only came to light after his death, and the failings of public institutions to stop him like the BBC is examined in The Reckoning (BBC)

There’s no cover-up, just a manipulative man. Maybe that’s how it was — that Savile operated in plain sight without institutional help — but for many viewers, that won’t be enough.

The Reckoning offers an understanding of Savile’s twisted ways, but the question remains: how are we going to stop another Savile without further analysing those who stood by him? Darien’s plea must be headed.

The Reckoning premieres on Monday, 9 October on BBC One.

Watch the trailer for The Reckoning: