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David Tennant to play notorious serial killer Dennis Nilsen in new ITV drama

David Tennant
(Image credit: LightRocket via Getty Images)

Tennant to take on the part of one of the country's most infamous murderers

David Tennant is to play one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, Dennis Nilsen, in a new ITV drama.

The former Doctor Who star will take on the part of Nilsen, known as Des, in the three-parter, which follows the murderer’s arrest and trial.

Based on the book Killing for Company by Brian Masters, the drama about one of the most infamous cases in UK criminal history is told through the prism of three men - Nilsen (David Tennant), Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay (Line of Duty’s Daniel Mays) and biographer Masters (Line of Duty and The Crown’s Jason Watkins).

Daniel Mays smiling

Daniel Mays plays Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay (pic credit: Barcroft Media via Getty Images) (Image credit: Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Nilsen remained undetected for five years as he murdered boys and young men in his flat from 1978 to 1983. The police only realised they had a serial killer on their hands when DCI Peter Jay was called to 23 Cranley Gardens in Muswell Hill, north London on 9th February, 1983, to investigate human fragments of flesh and bone clogging the drains.

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Former civil servant Nilsen, who died aged 72 in 2018, was convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder in 1983.

ITV says “Des will explore how a man like Nilsen was able to prey on the young and vulnerable in 1980s Britain.”

It will also look at the effect of the media coverage on public perceptions of the victims at the time.

ITV’s Head of Drama Polly Hill said: “This drama starts with Nilsen’s arrest and is looking at him through the eyes of the police officer trying to identify those he killed and deliver justice for them and the biographer he chose to tell his story.

“David Tennant is going to be brilliant as Dennis Nilsen and with Daniel Mays as Jay and Jason Watkins as Brian, this has an incredible cast to bring this story to screen and we are delighted to be making this with New Pictures for ITV.”

Kim Varvell, Executive Producer for New Pictures added: “Dennis Nilsen’s crimes shocked the nation in the early 1980s. Our programme focuses on the emotional impact of those terrible crimes, both on those who came into contact with Nilsen himself, and also on the victims’ families.”

Des is expected to be shown on ITV next year.

Main picture of David Tennant: LightRocket via Getty Images