This is a powerful and affecting TV drama about the discovery of the notorious series of child killings, committed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley in the Manchester area of England in the early 1960s, known as the Moors Murders. It is well researched, superbly written and acted, and filmed in convincing period style and locations.
As some reviewers have pointed out, the story is told not by directly following the lives of the evil pair or their victims, but rather it unfolds mainly through the eyes of Hindley's young sister and brother-in-law, Maureen and David Smith. Some of the other reviewers see this as a weakness in the movie, but I agree with reviewer Kurt Keefner that, seen from the viewpoint of two ordinary people who unwittingly became involved, it is actually a highly effective way of telling the story. In any case, I doubt that many directors would be prepared to depict on screen the sexual abuse, torture, murder and burial of several children, or that many of us would want to watch the result. This is a fact-based TV drama and the activities of the murderers themselves were not and never can be accurately documented, whereas there is ample information available about the police investigation into the murders and from the Smiths themselves, the latter now superbly told in book form in David Smith's own story "Witness", co-authored by Carol Ann Lee.
And so this TV movie tells the story of how these appalling crimes were discovered, initially by David and Maureen Smith who turned in the killers to the police in spite of the great risk to themselves. By doing so they ensured that no more children and young people would be brutally murdered and yet, as we see, they were initially suspected of complicity in the crimes, unfairly maligned by some elements of the press and public, and the subsequent effects on their own lives were devastating. Here, the young couple are powerfully portrayed by Michael McNulty and Joanne Froggatt. As for the killers themselves, Sean Harris, in the role of Ian Brady, is deeply unsettling from the very start even when he is being civil, and he brilliantly conveys the murderer's cold sadism, twisted intelligence and delusions of grandeur. This is a masterful, menacing and convincing portrayal of pathological evil. As his partner in crime Myra Hindley, Maxine Peake is not at first sight as overtly unpleasant a character as we might expect, but nevertheless her portrayal of Hindley as Brady's willing and calculating accomplice is extremely convincing.
And then there are the police. George Costigan is superb as the resourceful and determined DCI Joe Mounsey, who with his equally able team stays on the case of the missing children long after his superiors have lost interest. His role is well contrasted with some of his colleagues, with frank portrayals of those who were busy accusing the wrong people or at best dragging their feet, unable to make connections or simply not all that bothered about children going missing.
As mentioned above, the murders themselves are not shown on screen with the exception of the last, that of Edward Evans, seen briefly through the horrified eyes of David Smith. Nevertheless the build-up of misery as events unfold is heart-wrenching. Proper attention is given to each of the five known murder victims and their families, and we are reminded very effectively of the shattering consequences of Brady and Hindley's unspeakable activities upon the lives of so many people.
This drama makes for rivetting viewing, but be warned - like the real events that it portrays, this is a profoundly upsetting story. So unless you are as tough as nails or as cold-hearted as Ian Brady, you'll probably need a box of hankies beside you as you watch. But that is as it should be, so all credit to the makers of this compelling and unbearably sad production.