The Long Shadow review

The Long Shadow review: ITV series deserves all the awards for its focus on the victims

They were let down by police...

The Long Shadow continues on ITV this week, and it’s following a new and welcome trend in true crimes – read more in our review.

Rather than focus on serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, the seven-parter attempts to humanise the women he murdered. He is known to have killed 13 women, and attacked at least seven more.

This is the first time their stories have been dramatised. And it’s about time. Like the recent ITV drama The Hunt for Raoul Moat, and BBC One’s sublime Sherwood, the spotlight is deliberately turned on the victims.

In fact, Peter Sutcliffe, played by actor Mark Stobbart, doesn’t even appear in the drama series until the final two episodes. A spokesperson for the channel made it clear that the focus of the series is not on the killer, but instead his victims, and their families.

Here’s why we think The Long Shadow deserves all the awards in our review.

Jill Halfpenny plays Doreen Hill in The Long Shadow
Jill Halfpenny plays grieving mum Doreen Hill in The Long Shadow (Credit: ITV1)

The Long Shadow review: What it gets SO right

Two episodes in, and The Long Shadow appears to have one apparent aim – to honour the victims of Peter Sutcliffe. Unlike the totally sensationalist drama Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. The Netflix series once again only served to glamourise the crimes of the killer.

And don’t get us started on the glossy HBO drama The Staircase, about the death of Kathleen Peterson. It should never have been made. Sadly, her name got lost once again. Instead, all eyes were once more on her husband and suspected killer Michael Peterson. And that grotesquely gratuitous crime scene left us feeling sorry for her kids.

Why was it made? For ratings, for sure. Not so in The Long Shadow, where the families were consulted and their opinions listened to.

The Long Shadow attempts to right some wrongs. It’s about the victims, not the sick serial killer.

‘The case of Peter Sutcliffe is a story about far more than a murderer’

Writer George Kay explains he was inspired by Peter Sutcliffe‘s forgotten victims. Speaking ahead of the show’s launch, he explained: “On the 19th of December 2007, police found Sonia McCann dead at her home. After battling alcohol addiction in a rehabilitation centre, Sonia had hanged herself. Her mother, Wilma, was the first of Peter Sutcliffe’s 13 murder victims.

“Sonia, who used her mother’s maiden name, told a documentary about her continuing grief in 2005: ‘I think most people remember the number 13 – the number of women Peter Sutcliffe killed. But what about the children? There’s 25 of them and… no one remembers them.’

“And this is what our show, The Long Shadow, encapsulates. For in my view, 32 years after he first killed, Sonia became Peter Sutcliffe’s final victim.”

He goes on the say that the drama aims to highlight the “victims whose lives were ended, the surviving victims whose testimonies were never believed, and the victims’ families, whose lives were ruined by the loss of their mothers, sisters and daughters”.

George insists that “really, this series is not about Peter Sutcliffe”. Instead, its about the “wider impact of his crimes”.

ALEXA GODDALL as Sonic MCCann and DYLAN HALL as Richard MCCann, the children of Peter Sutcliffe's first victim
Alexa Goddall as Sonic McCann and Dylan Hall as Richard MCCann, the children of Peter Sutcliffe’s first victim Wilma (Credit: ITV1)

The Long Shadow review: Makers changed the title out of respect to victims

The ITV drama about Peter Sutcliffe had the working title of The Yorkshire Ripper. However, many objected to the term, which is seen to glorify the criminal. Of course, police and the media coined the term when they were searching for the killer, and did not know the name of the culprit.

Explaining the change, writer George Kay said: “We started by calling it The Yorkshire Ripper when we announced it. But we learned over time that the name people use to describe Peter Sutcliffe – which obviously began before anyone knew his real name, but then continued after his identity was revealed – was disrespectful in many ways.

“It’s especially painful for the victims’ families. It creates a sort of dark brand around a man who doesn’t deserve that sort of attention.”

George adds: “This is a story we’ve been working on for four years. And, in that time, we’ve learnt lots of things and met lots of people in all parts of this story. I think we’ve been really good about being flexible and trying to learn and change and understand their stories and their opinions.”

He accepts that Peter Sutcliffe’s moniker was “triggering” and “distressing”, and wasn’t afraid to listen to the victims and change the title.

What do the critics say about The Long Shadow?

An amazing cast helps make The Long Shadow such good viewing, as well as its focus on the victims. The series also acknowledges that, although the police made mistakes, there’s light and shade to the story. Yes, some of the police were misogynistic, but not all.

The Guardian critic Lucy Mangan gives the series four out of five stars. She says: “A mighty cast including Katherine Kelly and Toby Jones tells the stories of the women murdered by Peter Sutcliffe. Finally, the focus is on the victims.”

Meanwhile, The Telegraph’s Anita Singh describes The Long Shadow as a “superior true crime” and gives it four out of five stars. Radio Times’ James Hibbs says: “It’s clear that the intentions from those behind the camera appear to be in the right place, and that they have therefore managed to stick the landing after walking the dramatic tightrope of true crime.”

However, The Independent’s Nick Hilton only gives the series two out of five stars. He wrote: “ITV show seeks to shift the focus to the victims of the Yorkshire Ripper, but it actually ends up glamourising of one of Britain’s worst ever serial killers.”

Is he watching the same series we are?

Read more: All the soap stars starring in The Long Shadow, including Emmerdale’s Sammy Winward as Peter Sutcliffe’s wife

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The Long Shadow continues on Mondays at 9pm on ITV1 and ITVX.

Do you agree with our The Long Shadow review? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page @EntertainmentDailyFix.

Helen Fear
TV Editor