Steeltown Murders review

REVIEW: Forget sensationalist true crime shows, Steeltown Murders is how it should be done

The new BBC drama is every bit as good as The Pembrokeshire Murders and Sherwood

Steeltown Murders tells the disturbing true story of how serial killer and rapist Joseph Kappen walked free for 30 years – here’s my review of the BBC One series.

The new four-parter is a dramatisation of the horrifying true crime and how the police eventually caught the man who murdered three teenagers.

And I can confirm, this is EXACTLY how a true crime series should be done. Find out more in my Steeltown Murders review.

The cast of Steeltown Murders on BBC One
Steeltown Murders review: It’s a chilling dramatisation of a true crime (Credit: BBC One)

What’s the BBC drama about?

Like Sherwood before it, the new BBC One TV show is set in two timelines – 1973 when three teenagers were murdered – and the early 2000s when new advancements in forensics enabled the police force to finally find the killer.

Steeltown Murders centres on the hunt to catch the killer of three young women in the Port Talbot area. It’s also a painfully raw portrait of a town dealing with the repercussions of an unsolved case three decades on.

In 1973, an (at the time unknown) attacker raped and strangled three young girls to death in Llandarcy, South Wales. Their names were Sandra Newton, Geraldine Hughes and Pauline Floyd.

The cast includes some of the best on television right now. Philip Glenister portrays DCI Paul Bethell, opposite Steffan Rhodri as DC Phil Bach, and Keith Allen as Priyanga Burford also star, while Aneurin Barnard has the unpleasant job of portraying the serial killer Joseph Kappen.

Aneurin Barnard as killer Joseph Kappen
Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard as killer Joseph Kappen (Credit: Severn Screen/Tom Jackson)

Steeltown Murders is exactly how true crime should be done

This latest true crime dramatisation is as good as some of the best. And, by that, I mean ITV’s The Pembrokeshire Murders, and BBC One’s 2022 hit Sherwood.

It’s a saturated genre, thanks to our fascination with criminals, and what makes them do what they do. Of course, we love to sit at home and try to solve the cases ourselves, too.

But you can forget the more sensationalist true crime dramas like Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, and the frankly uncomfortably glossy The Staircase

Steeltown Murders is EXACTLY how the true crime genre should be approached. It’s sombre, gritty, and doesn’t glamourise the killer. Instead, like the recent The Hunt for Raoul Moat, it aims to focus on the victims, and doesn’t fetishise the murderer.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that Steeltown Murders was written by Ed Whitmore, who penned the popular Manhunt on ITV.

He explains that “ultimately the focus is less on the murders themselves and more on their tragic aftermath – the bereaved families stoically toiling on without justice; the suspects whose lives and marriages have been blighted by suspicion; the detectives tasked with catching the killer serving out their careers in the shadow of failure”.

Steeltown Murders review – is it any good?

In my opinion, Steeltown Murders on BBC One is a must-watch for true crime fans. It’s traumatic to watch, but that’s the point.

It’s a chilling retelling of a horrible true story, and isn’t afraid to tackle the difficult subjects… Including violence against women, and how the police originally dismissed Sandra Newton as a victim because she was sexually active. Unlike Geraldine Hughes and Pauline Floyd who were both virgins.

Philip Glenister is typically brilliant as the lead detective. He gives a heartfelt performance as a man determined to catch the killer second time around. The superb Priyanga Burford is also compelling as Sita, the best friend of Geraldine and Pauline before they died. She perfectly captures the heartbreak of those left behind after such a brutal crime.

Actor Philip said it best when he spoke ahead of the show’s transmission. He said: “I haven’t looked at it as a thriller. To me, it’s more a drama-documentary that we are making. You want it to be entertaining, educational and informative, all the things you want in a good drama. So, hopefully we have done it justice.”

Read more: BBC drama Kidnapped based on Celebrity Big Brother star Chloe Ayling’s abduction announced

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Steeltown Murders starts on Monday, May 15, 2023 at 9pm on BBC One. All episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer.

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Helen Fear
TV Editor