TV Review: The Long Shadow

A truly top quality cast do their best in The Long Shadow but do we need another drama about a serial killer?

“Nobody, no matter who they are, deserves to die like Wilma did last night”

The ongoing obsession with true crime continues apace with The Long Shadow, a hefty seven-part drama which dramatises the five-year manhunt for serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper. Written by George Kay from Michael Bilton’s 2003 book Wicked Beyond Belief combined with additional research and input from some of the families of his victims, it’s a brutal watch that is hard to get through.

To its credit, the show does try to do things differently, by genuinely centring the lives of the women who he attacked and murdered. With so many victims spread over a number of years, this format works because we can spend time with each of them, looking at decisions made and situations tolerated that forced them into the path of Sutcliffe who, it should also be added, barely features across the whole thing.

So we see Katherine Kelly’s Emily Jackson resorting to sex work due to her family’s financial dire straits led by feckless husband Sydney (Daniel Mays), Molly Vevers’ Irene Richardson whose fate is sealed by not getting a job as a nanny due to snobbery, Jasmine Lee-Jones’ Marcella Claxton who just accepted a lift. Everyday people living everyday lives yet snared into something truly terrible for no reason at all.

Much focus is placed on the police investigation, hampered by societal attitudes of the time as some of the victims were sex workers and so all were considered thus, especially if they’d dared to be out late at night and maybe had a drink. The racism of the time is starkly portrayed too, Claxton’s trauma magnified by her treatment in this respect. Plus it was a tricky case too, straddling multiple police areas in an era before computers, though the reminder that Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times during the case remains shocking.

It just all feels a bit relentless, almost inuring us to the horrific crimes it is depicting. As we cycle through each murder to the next, through an endless parade of detectives trying their best (Toby Jones, David Morrissey, Lee Ingleby and more), it’s hard to know what this is feeding, if not ultimately our prurience, despite all the good intentions all round. Constantly looking back at true crimes this way can’t be good for us.

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