The Long Shadow: Katherine Kelly and Toby Jones on ITV drama about Peter Sutcliffe victims

The people of Yorkshire know all too well how Peter Sutcliffe’s heinous crimes sowed fear and panic across the North of England.

It is a story that has been told many times and for decades the serial killer himself, who died aged 74 in November 2020 while serving a whole life term, was the focus of attention.

The Long Shadow, an upcoming ITV drama, is aiming to tell it in a different way. The broadcaster says that it will focus on Sutcliffe's victims, those he killed or injured between 1975 and 1980, but also their loved ones, who were left to live with the enduring effects of his attacks.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Writer George Kay, whose previous credits include Criminal and Litvinenko, also draws a link between the social context of 1970s Britain and what is going on today.

Katherine Kelly as Emily Jackson in The Long Shadow. Credit: ITV Plc.Katherine Kelly as Emily Jackson in The Long Shadow. Credit: ITV Plc.
Katherine Kelly as Emily Jackson in The Long Shadow. Credit: ITV Plc.

“It was not lost on us that the same placards raised in anger and grief during the 1980 Reclaim the Night marches bore the same messages as those at the 2021 vigil for Sarah Everard,” he says. “Over 40 years apart, women all over the UK continue to fight for the same justice. To be able to walk the streets without fear.”

Sutcliffe, a lorry driver who lived in Heaton, Bradford, was convicted of murdering 13 women and seven attempted killings, for which he was jailed in 1981.

His first official murder victim was Wilma McCann, a 28-year-old mother from Leeds, in October 1975.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Wilma’s daughter, Sonia, died by suicide in 2007. The Long Shadow traces the ripple-effects of these crimes, exploring how, in Kay’s view, “thirty-two years after he first killed, Sonia became Peter Sutcliffe’s final victim”.

Toby Jones as DCS Dennis Hoban. Credit: ITV Plc.Toby Jones as DCS Dennis Hoban. Credit: ITV Plc.
Toby Jones as DCS Dennis Hoban. Credit: ITV Plc.

Show director Lewis Arnold, known for hit drama Sherwood, adds: “George’s scripts have really put the victims, their families and all the people affected by the case at the forefront of the storytelling.

“So, for the first time in a television drama, we’re getting a wider look at this case through the prism of those individuals, seeing the difficulties and hardships they faced, as well as their personal pain and tragedy. It’s these characters that form an emotional heartbeat through the series alongside the more traditional police procedural.

“The key challenge with any real-life story that deals with murder or crimes of a violent nature is trying to tell an authentic and truthful account of the events without it feeling grotesque or exploitative to the people you’re portraying. The team spent a lot of time researching the events and speaking to the families and people involved in the case to make sure we struck the right balance.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ultimately, he says: “I think what we have tried to do is shift focus away from the people who have dominated this narrative for the last forty years and attempted to allow those drowned-out voices, an opportunity to have their truth heard.”

In order to research the story, they took reference from Michael Bilton’s book Wicked Beyond Belief, which was used to help shape the scripts for the seven episodes alongside personal interviews conducted with the surviving victims and family members.

Production designer Anna Higginson and Arnold also often referred to the photography of Peter Mitchell, who has documented Leeds for more than 40 years.

Katherine Kelly, perhaps best known for her time in Coronation Street, plays another Leeds victim Emily Jackson, who was 42.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The actress agrees that part of her motivation for taking part was that the murders happened near to where she grew up in Barnsley.

Kelly says: “Even though Peter Sutcliffe was caught just after my first birthday and it's not in my living memory whatsoever, it is still obviously in the memory of my parents and the generations before them. Everybody of a certain age from that part of the world has a Peter Sutcliffe story. He left a scar on the landscape of the community and I believe we have captured that.

“The role of Peter Sutcliffe in our drama is very small. It's not about him; it's about the fact that they didn't know who it was. And that's the fear and terror, not knowing who it is. You live with that for the majority of this series. Who is this monster? It could be your neighbour.”

Another heavyweight actor on the programme is Toby Jones, who portrays DCS Dennis Hoban, who initially led the inquiry but died in 1978.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Jones says: “Hoban is to a certain extent jettisoned as the lead inspector because it doesn't correspond with any case that he's done before. He had been an extremely successful detective up to that point. His journey goes from confidence and certainty to disappointment and uncertainty and, ultimately, death.”

In the years after the murders, police were criticised for various parts of their investigation, including an initial insistence that Sutcliffe was targeting sex workers, and investigators’ attitudes towards them.

After Sutcliffe’s death, West Yorkshire Police apologised to his victims for "the language, tone and terminology used by senior officers at the time" of the investigation.

Arnold says: “Personally, I also think there are a lot of parallels to draw between 1975 and 2023, specifically the social and economic landscape.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“This was why in the edit, we opted to open the show with stock footage that contextualised the similarities and landed the real struggles of the working and middle classes. We’re seeing it now with the current cost-of-living crisis. People are being forced to make difficult decisions and sacrifices, and as a consequence, women and children are becoming more and more vulnerable.

“I hope people reflect on this case and the stories within and see how unremoved we are from the events of 1975.”

The Long Shadow is on ITV1 and ITVX from Monday, September 25 at 9pm.