A disturbing but thoroughly-entertaining true crime romp.
Manhunt is a true crime three-part series that follows the police force as they attempt to solve several murders and attacks across London and Surrey. The series captivated viewers as it attempted to link the notorious murderer, Levi Bellfield, to several gruesome murders, including that of 13-year-old Milly Dowler.
The series stars Martin Clunes as the senior investigating officer in the case of murdered French student Amelie Delagrange. His character, Colin Sutton, is met with several challenges in identifying potential leads, including argumentative staff and what could nowadays be seen as inadequate resources, especially within the field of CCTV and surveillance. However, with the help of a determined police force, as well as Bellfield’s partner, given the pseudonym of Laura Marsh in the drama – portrayed by Downton Abbey’s Cara Theobald – the team are eventually able to capture and prosecute Bellfield.
The series is action-packed and exciting to watch whilst also being a devastating true story. The talent of the actors was undeniable; the skill it must have taken to portray not only real victims, but also police investigators in a case that has gripped the nation is commendable as well as the amount of courage it required to put aside the reality of the crimes in order to shed light on the stellar behind-the-scenes actions of the investigation. The scriptwriting perfectly mixed the heroic police actions, as well as the tolls this work takes on personal lives, alongside the crimes themselves and the experience of those affected. Finally, the way in which the drama unfolded was both curious as well as smart. The constant cliffhangers coupled with the gruesome crimes absorbed viewers, leaving us all on the edge of our sofas waiting for Bellfield to be caught. Each new story inspired more rage at his nonchalant demeanour and evoked feelings of grief and sadness when viewers fully came to the realisation that whilst we may be watching a drama, the stories are real and true, and heartbreakingly close to home for some watching.
When I sat down to watch this with my family, in truth I didn’t know what to expect. Was it going to be too dark and grisly? Was it going to be too real and therefore unsettling to watch? Or was it just going to be so unrealistically portrayed that it insulted those involved? However, the series was both clever, surprising and intriguing. This was the best depiction of persistent ‘coppering’ that has been seen in a long while, as well as being a truly representative portrayal of the way in which the crimes, and the following investigations unfolded. Nevertheless, I would criticise the script for its endless incorporation of petty comments hinting at the competition and jealousies felt between the Surrey police force and the Metropolitan police force. This was agitating, and ultimately takes away from the commendation of the rest of the show. It is also notable how the show portrayed the importance of thoroughness in police work after a fault of one police force in a related investigation led to essential evidence being overlooked, which may have led to some victims still being alive today. The show satisfied most questions, and gripped many viewers, leading them to tune in for the three consecutive nights.
Inevitably the drama series reignited the debate about whether real crimes should be dramatized for viewer satisfaction. It can often be argued that these dramas shouldn’t be created due to the fact that the appeal of them is based on real pain and experiences of victims and their families. Dramatizing murders, amongst other crimes, that have occurred in reality, simply for viewing pleasure, can be seen as sadistic and cruel. Despite this, on the flip side of the argument is the fact that these dramas often show the heroism of those involved in solving the cases, as well as the redemption of those wrongly accused. Often these shows receive critical acclaim for their rawness and acting, with Manhunt itself expected to scoop several nominations. Another debate that is inspired as a result of the former is the vicitm’s and their families’ knowledge of the creation of the shows. It remains seemingly unclear whether the families of those addressed in Manhunt were “in-the-know” about the drama, let alone if they approved its creation. Recently, Jamie Bulger’s father has been in the news discussing his lack of knowledge about a future TV show that is set to be made about his son’s gruesome murder. This is a debate that thousands of people have weighed in on, often suggesting the inhumanity of ignoring the victims and the families in these scenarios, as well as the wider effects the dramas may have on their lives as they continue to move on from the devastation caused by the crimes.
Produced by Clunes’ wife, Phillippa Braithwaite, and based upon the memoirs of the real Colin Sutton, the drama responsibly portrays both the painful reality of Bellfield’s crimes, the detailed work of the police force as well as the extent to which these crimes shook the nation. Ending with several pieces of text which described the outcomes of the police’s investigations in real life, the series left viewers feeling raw with empathy yet satisfied at the conclusion of the case. Even in spite of the terrible crimes he committed, Bellfield was eventually brought to justice.
Manhunt is worth the watch if you are interested in both the crimes and story of Bellfield’s prosecution, however be aware of the extent to which the grim and grisly crimes are portrayed, as well as the mixture of emotions that will come as a result of watching this series. Many were left wondering what led to Bellfield becoming the heinous and wicked creature he was; a question that will probably never be answered.
Manhunt is available on iTV Player now.