Exclusive: Netflix's Nilsen Tapes director on documentary's important ending

·3-min read
Photo credit: Multistory Media  - ITV
Photo credit: Multistory Media - ITV

Netflix's new true-crime documentary Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes confused viewers as it cut off the murderer's account playing on the tapes – but director Michael Harte has explained the reasoning behind it.

The documentary dropped on Netflix yesterday (August 19), and follows the story of Dennis Nilsen, also known as the Muswell Hill Murderer, a serial killer who murdered at least 12 young men in London in the 1970s and 1980s.

The murderer recorded a series of chilling audiotapes from his prison cell, narrating his life and describing his horrific crimes, which are used to narrate the documentary.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Related: Dennis Nilsen death – what happened to the serial killer?

In an interview with Digital Spy, director Michael Harte has finally explained why shortly before the film ends, Nilsen's tapes are cut off: "By that point in the film, he has just received a letter from the prison to say that he's refusing to take responsibility for other things.

"At that point, I just wanted to say that he cannot speak anymore. He's refusing to take any responsibility. There's nothing to be learned from this man at that point in the film. So the tape ran out.

"I hope that people, when they watch this, they realise that Nilsen is unreliable and irresponsible, and refuses to take any responsibility for what he did."

Harte has been an editor on several recent Netflix hit documentaries, including Dont F*** With Cats and Three Identical Strangers. The Nilsen Tapes is his first directorial credit.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

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"He [Nilsen] cannot have his voice heard at that point," Harte continued. "I've structured the film so that by the second half of the film, it is Martyn [who Nilsen attempted to kill], Shane [the son of Graham Allen, who was killed by Nilsen] and Lesley [Shane's mother] – but Martyn and Lesley particularly – who own the film.

"It's their film. It's their story and it's their journey that we're on. Nilsen doesn't have an arc in this film."

Nilsen's crimes were previously documented in ITV's three-part series Des, starring David Tenant as the serial killer. Like the new documentary, it explores the details of Nilsen's horrifying crimes.

Unlike other famous serial killers, Nilsen left little mystery around what he'd done, discussing the crimes at length on tape and in notebooks during his time in prison from 1983 to 2018, when he died.

Photo credit: Bryn Colton - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bryn Colton - Getty Images

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Harte explained: "The big thing for me in the film is that as I listened to his tapes, I wanted to make sure I interviewed other people in the film based on what he told us. But when I interviewed them, they more often than not contradicted what Nilsen said.

"So I realised then that I had the classic unreliable narrator in my film. Nilsen seemed to want to paint a certain picture of himself, as almost that he was the victim. For me, it felt like he was lying to us, first and foremost, but he was probably lying to himself because he didn't want to take responsibility.

"It's just what I see as the truth, that he didn't want to take responsibility for things that he did. So he created a different story in his head."

Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes will be available to stream on Netflix from August 18.

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