TV review: At moments The Reckoning is too awful to sit through. At the same time, Steve Coogan’s ability to recreate Jimmy Savile’s cheesy anticharm is uncanny
By Ed Power
The horror continues to build throughout the second episode of The Reckoning, the BBC’s often unwatchable meditation on the sins of Jimmy Savile (BBC One, Tuesday, 9pm). We’ve moved forward to the 1970s when Top of the Pops was the biggest brand on television and BBC DJs such as Savile were superstars, almost as famous as the singers with whom they rubbed shoulders.
The Reckoning is once more a showcase for Steve Coogan, whose Savile is a grinning predator, seemingly without conscience. The script continues to go easy on the BBC, however. In one scene, for instance, Savile is hauled in for questioning after a young girl he meets on Top of the Pops and subsequently abuses kills herself.
He first attempts to gaslight his bosses. “It’s a sad fact a lot of these young girls are so obsessed with fame they don’t know truth from fantasy,” he says. But when a lawyer later grills him, it is made clear that Savile holds all the cards.
He’s the biggest name in show business – is the BBC going to to throw him overboard? “You need to think about who it is you’re talking to,” he says to the barrister, who subsequently clears Savile of all wrongdoing. The message is that the fault lies entirely with Savile and his almost supernatural powers of bullying and persuasion – rather than with the corporation, which shrugged and moved on.
Savile knew people were on to him – and so created the fiction that rumours about his behaviour were fuelled by jealousy. “You get naysayers trying to stop you, by making up stories about things that didn’t happen,” he tells a journalist friend after catching wind that one of the papers is preparing a story about his activities.
Everyone else fawns over Savile. He receives an OBE. The BBC has him host Songs of Praise. The hospital manager who once disapproved of Savile is now delighted by his appearances. This is the megastar who arranged visits by the Beach Boys and Roy Orbison. Yes, his behaviour can be unusual from time to time, “but that’s Jimmy”.
The Reckoning makes for strange viewing. At moments, it is simply too awful to sit through. At the same time, writer Neil McKay’s evocation of the beige dreariness of the 1970s is uncanny – as is Coogan’s ability to recreate Savile’s cheesy anticharm. He had presence, without question. But how someone who gave off such creepy vibes ever ended up on the airwaves is hard to fathom – one more mystery destined to linger for as long as Savile’s name is part of the British entertainment’s parade of shame and horror.