Ten years after his villainy was revealed publicly, Netflix’s new two-part docuseries, Jimmy Savile A British Horror Story, explores how Jimmy Savile hid behind his philanthropic image and ‘fooled’ a nation, from the public, to the government, to royalty. Amelia Gibbs reviews.
It’s hard to think of a case of abuse within the UK more immeasurable and heinous than that of Jimmy Savile, and Rowan Deacon’s new two-part Netflix docuseries has brought this predator even further out of hiding, by giving access to audiences overseas.
The first episode focusses heavily on Savile’s public appearances and extensive charity work, and it’s eventually clear that the reason for concentrating on this aspect of the story, is in order to demonstrate how Savile was able to ‘groom the nation’ – how he ‘hid in plain sight’ when committing his heinous acts. However, in a world in which bystander apathy, particularly within cases of sexual abuse, is still rife within society, can an angle such as this do more harm than good?
I was surprised to find that it’s not until the second episode that Savile’s crimes are really discussed in unelusive detail. It feels almost a disservice to those who came forward against the abuser, that this series should still mainly focus on his philanthropy for so long before plainly acknowledging the pain he caused.
And this is just the start when it comes to this series’ most frustrating element – significant commentaries on systemic failure, complicity, and survivor experience are often hinted at, but not explored in as much depth as I would hope for from a Netflix series.
The series does little to acknowledge the systemic problem of complicity and neglect
With hundreds of potential victims, and many incidents taking place inside the BBC offices itself, it’s clear to see that these survivors were let down by multiple people within the industry, as well as the police force. The series’ focus on how Savile ‘fooled’ the nation into trusting him, does something very dangerous indeed – it absolves bystanders of responsibility, and absolves the BBC of their failures in safeguarding, suggesting that they, too, were merely victims of his lies. The series does little to acknowledge the systemic problem of complicity and neglect that must’ve occurred in order for abuse of this scale to have taken place for so long.
I’m in no way suggesting that any of the series participants in particular were complicit in Savile’s crimes, but I do think that this is an area that could have been explored in greater depth. Those of Savile’s closest confidents who are interviewed, including the producer of Jim’ll Fix It, and his official biographer, appear to avoid serious scrutiny by the interviewing team, excusing themselves by stating simply that they “didn’t know”. It is suggested in captions, that the police-force played a hand in deterring earlier accusers from going to court, though this is also not investigated in much detail.
Still, the series does break some ground in its discussion of Savile’s grossly misled reasoning behind his crimes. There’s a particularly distressing clip shown of Savile explaining that he chooses to do good-deeds in order to balance his books and secure himself a place in heaven. As well as this, the series as a whole is engaging, and balances testimonial with archival clips well.
Sam Brown bravely goes into unforgiving detail of her experience
There are also genuinely moving moments, which put into perspective the absolute misery that Savile so monstrously inflicted for so long. Sam Brown bravely goes into unforgiving detail of her experience, and speaks about how her life has changed since she came forward with her story. Her pride in herself shines through as she discusses how she found the courage to speak out, and so it’s impossible not to feel empowered by her choice to tell her truth, on her own terms, and for herself.
It’s Sam who gets the last word, which is the absolute only way that a series such as this should end. In instances such as these, it’s important that the courage, tenacity, and individuality of the survivors is not hidden behind the villainy of the predator. I only wish that more survivors had been given space within the three-hour runtime, to speak their truths also.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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