Being from Glasgow, the murder spree of Peter Manuel is still infamous in these parts, some 60 years after their perpetration and he remains I believe the worst serial-killer in Scottish criminal history. There was no rhyme or reason to his acts, some of his murders were sexual in nature, some were just coldblooded slaughter, some were singly carried-out and covered up, some were shot, some beaten to death, some were of multiple victims (he twice murdered whole households) and then left the slain out almost on display. A callous, selfish, conceited individual, he acted as if he was superior to the police on his tail, almost daring them to catch him. Thankfully, they eventually did, but not before he'd accounted for nine victims, finally being hanged at Barlinnie Prison in 1958.
This three-part ITV series posits as his nemesis pursuing Detective Police Inspector Muncie and sees the latter drawn into a treacherous game of cat and mouse before Manuel finally overplays his hand and is at last brought to justice.
It's interesting to compare this dramatisation of a British 50's serial-killer with the recent BBC three-part series on another infamous mass-murderer John Christie from about the same era in "Rillington Place". Both are good but with faults, the problem here being, almost inevitably, the simplification of events (a murder he committed in England is ignored completely) and creation of characters to presumably empower the story, as if fiction could have more dramatic effect than the cold hard truth. For example DI Muncie has as his main assistant a woman detective, which nothing in my background reading has brought up as based in fact. It just looks like what it is, a PC casting decision probably made with a view to modern relevance and to possibly broaden viewer appeal too. It had to be a mistake too not to show something of the criminal trial of Manuel, at the time dubbed in the press up here as the "Trial Of The Century", especially when the accused chose to run his own defence.
On the positive side, the depiction of the times was fine, helped no doubt by the fact that the neighbourhoods in which Manuel ran amok are pretty much still standing today. I also think it was wise not to show the depiction of any of the actual murders, presumably on taste-grounds. The two leads are fine, Douglas Henshall, never off the screen as a cop these days it seems and Martin Compson, playing a villain from a previous generation this time as opposed to his recent turn as Paul Ferris in the film "The Wee Man". At first I thought Compson would be a physical mismatch for the evil-eyed Manuel, but I learned they both shared a diminutive stature and though Compson can't match the devilish intensity of the well-known contemporary Manuel mug-shot, he does resemble him at other times.
I do think the piece could have been darker and sharper in presentation but perhaps the makers did the viewer a favour in cutting this would-be big-shot murderer down to size without glorifying his terrible misdeeds. One of the last men hanged in Scotland, I disapprove of capital punishment but if ever there was a deserving case of the rope, Manuel was surely it. And as for the strong local accents requiring subtitling, there was no problem in my household and it was good to hear the realistic vernacular of the day as opposed to pukker-English or bland American accents for a change.
9 out of 9 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.