Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story Review: This True Crime Series Gives Too Much Of A Spotlight To A Fiend Who Loved Attention

The following includes references to sexual assault.

Netflix's "Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story" released on the streaming platform on April 6, 2022, and while the documentary series offers a fascinating look at a horrific wolf in sheep's clothing, the story feels oddly incomplete by the end. At just two episodes long, this is easily one of the shortest true crime miniseries to debut on Netflix, and that truncated runtime comes at the cost of honoring the victims' stories. Still, a significant amount of time is dedicated to examining Jimmy Savile as a British icon, with attention paid to the various social systems that allowed him to get away with his crimes for so long. 

"Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story" tells the story of Britain's most infamous BBC personality. Savile rose to superstardom over many years, first as a DJ, and then as a television personality. During his lifetime, he was a beloved public figure — thanks, in part, to his extraordinary charity work. Underneath that quirky, bleach-blonde veneer, however, lay a monstrous predator who used his carefully-constructed celebrity as a shield. Disgustingly, Savile targeted the most vulnerable people as victims: His volunteer work at hospitals gave him access to such people, whom he sexually assaulted behind closed doors. The details of what Savile actually did, however, are surprisingly scarce and saved for the end of the miniseries. The vast majority of the documentary is archive footage of his work with the BBC and various televised interviews, as well as talking-head segments with people who knew him or were involved in exposing his crimes — but only one actual victim gets any significant screen time, and only at the very end. "Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story" is a character study of an abhorrent person, giving far too much of the spotlight to a fiend who loved attention.

Let's get one thing clear: Netflix knows how to do true-crime documentary series. From the super-hit "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness" to the heartbreaking "The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann," the streaming platform has a reputation for addictive docuseries that cover all manner of criminal activities. This includes stories of disgraced public figures who exploited their positions in order to abuse vulnerable people — like 2020's "Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich" and "Athlete A." Following such notable series, the bar was high for "Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story." Perhaps these expectations are partially to blame for how unsatisfying the documentary feels. 

Netflix's Jimmy Savile documentary is ... okay

"Jimmy Savile" was directed by English filmmaker Rowan Deacon. The director has mainly worked on television documentaries, and based on that alone, should have had no issue telling the Jimmy Savile abuse story; however, this is a huge undertaking, and Deacon really struggles to both capture the scope and deliver the information in an accessible way. There are only two parts, and there's not an obvious focus or theme for each episode; the story is instead told in roughly chronological order, with some jumping back and forth. Part 1 focuses more on Savile's rise to fame, while part 2 details how he became untouchable, the rumors about his predatory behavior, his death, and how he was eventually exposed. The second half is doing far too much for one episode, and the result is that the important stuff — like the victims telling their stories and the timeline of events — gets totally lost.

"Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story" has a lot of material, and it is not communicated well, thanks largely to the format. "Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich" and "We Need To Talk About Cosby" are documentary series that tackle similar stories to "Jimmy Savile," but both of those miniseries comprise four episodes. "Surviving R. Kelly" is told over 11 (across two seasons). The multiple-episode structure is great for these kinds of information-heavy true-crime documentaries because they are intuitive — each episode gets to cover a specific part or chapter of the overall story. "We Need To Talk About Cosby" effectively weaved in victim testimony within the chronological history it presented, even though these stories weren't made public knowledge until many years later. "Jimmy Savile" instead hints at his abusive behavior, but doesn't provide the actual details of it until much later. It's a bizarre approach that simultaneously assumes too much and too little audience knowledge of the controversy. 

So should you stream it?

"Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story" is definitely worth watching for true crime lovers interested in learning more about the former British entertainment icon. There are some shocking reveals throughout, and the general story serves as a cautionary tale about seeing what you want to see. Savile did a lot of good during his career, and the immense charitable acts — not to mention his close (and very public) relationship with the royal family — encouraged many people to ignore the red flags. Savile was a creep. He said creepy things. He did creepy things. He said, and did, creepy things on television — and people laughed. It's a deeply disturbing revelation that not only did Savile operate as a predator undetected for decades, but he hinted at his true self frequently, and no one caught on.

For those documentary connoisseurs with more discerning taste though, this is probably a Netflix Original that you can skip. There are other sources of information on this particular story that don't require you to watch two hours of Savile on camera, doing his schtick. 

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10