The story is told in a restrained and oblique way, with no prurient detail of the victims' suffering, and even so it was almost unbearably chilling and crushing. It unfolds from the point of view of a volunteer social worker who was asked to sit in on the police interviews. She is completely out of her depth, and West confides in her, putting her in a difficult moral dilemma. This is all based on fact, and the interview scenes are taken from transcripts. The acting is extremely good. The social worker is played by Emily Watson and Fred West is played by Dominic West, in a sickeningly accurate performance.
Two aspects of the drama are worth commenting on. One is the success in portraying miserable oppressive horror without resorting to explicit detail of the crimes, which would have been demeaning and cheapening of human suffering. I have rarely seen the balance struck so well. It is important that the evil of the crimes is not diminished, but it is also important that the suffering of innocent women is not paraded before us for titillation. While this was not perfect by any means, it should be taken as a standard for crime drama in the way it handles this difficult subject.
The other aspect which struck me very forcibly was the occasional shocking laughter. I was appalled at myself for laughing a couple of times, and I was glad to read reviews later from other viewers who had also laughed, at the shocking incongruity of the transcript. Again, I think it was exemplary in making you realise that it was funny, but never losing the horror. The horror and the appalled laughter were right next to each other.
Here is the kind of thing I am talking about (this from memory), a policewoman is interviewing Fred West.
Police: So, you are saying that you murdered and dismembered nine or ten women in that house, and buried them in the garden, and your wife never noticed?
West: I did it while she was out shopping.
Police: She must have spent a lot of time shopping.
West: Oh yes, it takes ages to walk to Tesco from our house.
I laughed and then I thought 'what am I doing?'