TV review: In Plain Sight, ITV
Martin Compston and Douglas Henshall star in true crime drama about Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel
There's something fascinating about serial killers. The idea of someone who can commit such atrocious crimes is almost incompressible. They are anomalies in society. There have been countless films and TV series covering their murder sprees as we try to make sense of what could drive a man (and they are almost always men) to kill again and again. ITV have commissioned a series of excellent true crime dramas over the years covering Fred West (Appropriate Adult), The Moors Murders (See No Evil) and most recently Mary Ann Cotton (Dark Angel). In Plain Sight takes on the case of Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel (played by Martin Compston), aka ' the Beast of Birkenshaw', and Detective William Muncie's (Douglas Henshall) quest to bring him to justice.
Uddingston 1955 is the last place you expect mass murder. Manuel had served nine years for assault and rape. On release he reverts to type, preying on innocent women. It can be uncomfortable viewing at times, charting the evolution of a monster as he progresses from sexual assault to murder. It caught the police unawares, at the time they couldn't even grasp the concept of a serial killer (the term wasn't coined until the 70s). However, Muncie already suspected Manuel but needed hard evidence.
Compston plays Manuel with a viscous charm. An intimidating bully, toying with his victims. An intelligent sociopath with rat-like cunning. He had a personal vendetta against Muncie, taunting him with hand delivered cards and letters. Their relationship is the dark heart of In Plain Sight, Muncie meticulously building his case, Manual almost flaunting his crimes, dancing just outside the reach of the law. There's a real spark between Compston and Henshall, the air crackles with tension when they come together onscreen.
Director John Strickland (who has worked on pretty much every ITV detective drama that matters from The Bill and Prime Suspect to Poirot and Whitechapel) effectively creates an all pervading dour atmosphere with some wonderful period detail. This ordinary life in small toun Scotland rocked by tragedy. A horrible but riveting true story.
In Plain Sight starts on ITV, Wed 7 Dec.