Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story ⭐️⭐️1/2 Review by Andrea Carnevali
TV star Jimmy Savile charmed a nation with his eccentricity and philanthropy. But sexual abuse allegations eventually exposed a shocking unseen side of his persona. Available to watch on Netflix.
On a normal day (let alone a weekend) I would never have chosen to watch anything on Savile to be completely honest. Just the sight of the man alone creeps me out beyond belief.
But it just happens that I’m currently working on a TV series which is all about the moments in history when the BBC became the news, instead of broadcasting it, so I guess this two-part documentary (nearly three hours which I’ll never get back) however bleak and unwelcome, felt like homework that I had to do.
I’m finding it quite hard to talk about it because I know some of the people who worked behind the scenes (people who incidentally are all spectacularly talented), but mostly because I strongly believe it feels wrong to use such a national tragedy for what’s essentially just “Netflix entertainment”, without any real lessons to learn.
The series is of course handsomely crafted and meticulously researched, but to me the biggest problem was the actual concept of documentary itself and what it chose to focus on.
It’s clearly aimed at people outside the UK, possibly Americans, who have very little (if not zero) knowledge about Savile himself. But even with that in mind, I found very problematic how it spent the best part of the first two hours pretty much going through the honours and glories or the man, without hearing a single testimony from any of the victims.
In fact the first episode could almost be mistaken for one of those obituary pieces they usually release when a “standard” celebrity dies. Of course today we are watching it with the “privilege” (so to speak) of hindsight.
The knowledge of what we know, even if just the headlines, helped by gloomy music, horror-like sound effects and creepy freeze frames, film burns and other visual tricks, put us in a position to juxtapose the celebratory images we see on the screen. with the bleak reality.
Unfortunately much too often the documentary makes no effort to break that spell, to stop the charade and to shout “hold on a second, while this man is being so revered by everyone, he’s also abusing around 400 hundreds victims, some as young as five!”.
We all know that’s where we are heading, but unbelievably the revelations (the “horror” from the title) are relegated to the second half of the last episode.
Before we get there we have to sit through a slow succession of example after example of how enraptured the nation was by this monster (all presented in a slightly confused chronology): his close friendship with Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles, his many appearances with all possible celebrities from the Beatles to the Pope, his 40+ years on television from Jim’ll Fix it to Top of the Pops, to the countless guest appearances, as well as his charity work, his MBE and so on.
The film is full of repetitions and after a while one story of his successes looks much like the next one. I could have done with a quick five minute montage at the front to do all the work that the first two hours did.
In fact if you look at the trailer for the series, it does a great job at conveying all that in just a couple of minutes. That man doesn’t really deserve such detailed analysis of his work. Also, what about his life before his all that fame?
Once the revelations finally do come, the documentary feels rushed, avoiding any psychological analysis or any specifics, not so much on his crimes, but on how he was able to get away with it beyond the fact that he was basically too huge.
The documentary fails to answer crucial questions, like the BBC mishandling for a start, and to acknowledge the danger of the silence from all those people who suspected something, those who brushed it under the carpet and those who pretended they didn’t see anything.
This is an important story, but only if we use it to learn from it. Learning about Savile’s accolades is pretty pointless at this stage.
I think there is a more insightful and useful documentary to be made, not so much about Savile and his crimes, but about how we can prevent this shameful history to repeat itself again.
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.
Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story is available to watch on Netflix.
See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali
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