TV preview: Westworld; Louis Theroux: Savile
Gerard Gilbert guides us what to expect from his pick of next week’s televisual offerings
I've often wondered how Louis Theroux must have been feeling since Jimmy Savile’s many crimes came to light in October 2012, a year after the cigar-sucking serial abuser went to his grave thinking he’d got away with it all. It was Theroux, in his 2000 documentary When Louis Met Jimmy, who came closer than anyone to publicly putting to Savile the dark rumours that had swirled around the “eccentric” fund-raising TV star, that he was a predatory paedophile, before being suckered in by the man who had – let’s face it - fooled popes, prime ministers and the police.
The extent to which he was hoodwinked is revealed in opening footage, which shows Savile in Theroux’s flat, the filmmaker offering him a place to stay anytime he was in London, and how much, in Theroux’s words, “a part of me had come to see him as something of a friend”. It was a strange friendship, in hindsight a form of control by Savile, who would turn up unannounced at Theroux's office at the BBC, before stripping off and changing out of his horrid jogging gear – blue string vest and skimpy nylon shorts (not a good look, but then neither was the proto-Grayson Perry/Rod Hull haircut) in front of Theroux’s female colleagues. And no doubt Theroux kept in touch because, well, he’s a journalist and, as he says here, “I thought there was a side to him I hadn't seen”. Not half.
So Louis Theroux: Savile can be seen as something as a mea culpa, although Theroux isn't entirely sure what he should feel guilty about – less perhaps than the then-Mail on Sunday journalist who was told anonymously by a nurse in the 1980s that Savile liked to “play” with little girls who were paralysed from the waist down. Fear of libel and Savile’s connections meant the lead was never followed up, a pattern that was to be repeated over the coming decades.
The film consists of Theroux knocking on doors and meeting Savile's victims – those he sexually abused and those whose trust he abused, like his long-time PA, Janet Cope, or Sylvia Nicol, the medical secretary at Stoke Mandeville hospital who worked closely with Savile on his fundraising. Meanwhile, one of Savile’s victims at Stoke Mandeville recalls watching Theroux's 2000 documentary and “fuming ... ‘silly chap, you don't know what's going on’”. I wouldn't be surprised if the actual language used was a lot stronger.
Michael Crichton's ingenious 1973 movie Westworld imagined a theme park in which punters got to enact their cowboy fantasies amidst robot gun-slingers – the paying customers finding themselves immersed in rather more than virtual reality when an android (played by a perfectly cast Yul Brynner) malfunctioned.
Robots are very current – culturally at least, with TV series such as Channel 4’s Humans and the movies Ex Machina and Her – and now HBO has come up with its own Westworld, which takes Crichton’s premise and does something more ambitious and box-settish with it, with seamless CGI and a solid-gold cast.
Anthony Hopkins (yes, even he does telly now) acts with his usual economy as Westworld’s creator, whose ambitions to continually upgrade his androids has led to them blowing a fuse (or discovering self-awareness, which amounts to the same thing here). Evan Rachel Wood plays a robot cowgirl whose Groundhog Day consists of springing from her bed each morning with joy in her heart before a day of death and despair, her memory wiped clean each night; and Ed Harris takes the Brynner role of a hard-ass gun-slinger who's gone off script, while everybody's favourite Danish prime minister, Sidse Babett Knudsen, plays the manager who takes over when the robots go on the blink. Highly promising.
Louis Theroux: Savile (BBC2, Sunday 9pm); Westworld (Sky Atlantic, Tuesday 9pm)