Des: David Tennant’s ‘blood-curdling’ performance as serial killer Dennis Nilsen leaves ITV viewers terrified

Adam White
·2-min read
David Tennant as Dennis Nilsen in ITV's 'Des' (ITV)
David Tennant as Dennis Nilsen in ITV's 'Des' (ITV)

David Tennant’s “blood-curdling” performance as serial killer Dennis Nilsen has been widely praised by viewers.

Tennant stars in ITV’s Des, a crime drama about the infamous Muswell Hill killer and the biographer who became obsessed with him.

The show’s first episode, which was broadcast last night (14 September), was called “confident” and “gruesome” by The Independent, with Tennant particularly marked for praise.

“Tennant, his face partially hidden beneath a thick fringe and large wire-framed glasses, uses Nilsen’s accent – mildly Doric, to my untrained southern ear – to great effect,” wrote TV critic Ed Cumming. “His Nilsen isn’t likeable, exactly, but he seems reasonable.”

Across social media, viewers similarly heaped praise on the actor.

“David Tennant truly is one of Britain’s finest actors,” tweeted one fan. “Blood curdling.”

Another wrote: “It's genuinely freaking me out just how spot on David Tennant is portraying Dennis Nilsen. This is f***ing fantastic.”

One viewer additionally praised the somewhat inevitable appearance of actor Jason Watkins, a regular presence in ITV crime dramas.

“It’s not a creepy crime drama until this man rocks up,” the viewer wrote. “Was starting to worry but in the 43rd minute he made an appearance and all is good in television thriller land again.”

Others who have worked within the prison system also claimed the show was impressively true to life.

A viewer tweeted: “I work at full Sutton Prison for many years and I’ve got to say David Tennant is playing Dennis Nilsen to the letter.”

David Tennant as Dennis Nilsen in ITV's 'Des'ITV
David Tennant as Dennis Nilsen in ITV's 'Des'ITV

Finally, as if to comfort those left shaken by the series, a Doctor Who fan account tweeted some much-needed distraction: photographs of Tennant holding a kitten.

This week (14 September), Tennant said that one of the most instructive facts he discovered about Nilsen while preparing for the role was that he was “actually rather boring”.

Read the full story of Dennis Nilsen, including his killings, capture and the circumstances of his death, here.

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