Des preview: David Tennant leads sterling cast in Sundance Now drama

Daniel Mays (left) and David Tennant in Des. (Photo Credit: Robert Viglasky/Courtesy of Sundance Now.)
Daniel Mays (left) and David Tennant in Des. (Photo Credit: Robert Viglasky/Courtesy of Sundance Now.) /

Des features incredible work from David Tennant, Daniel Mays and more.

The latest British TV crime drama to hit the U.S. is Des, which arrives on Sundance Now today after being a huge hit for ITV in September. Based on the caliber of its performances from a well-known cast, it should likewise enchant American audiences.

David Tennant stars as the title character, Dennis Nilsen, who murdered more than a dozen people between 1978 and 1983—and then confessed his crimes to police.

Making matters even stranger, the near-complete lack of evidence made it a battle for the cops to build a decent case against Nilsen, even with the admission.

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Des is the latest ITV true crime thriller, following 2016’s In Plain Sight, and is just as good as that venture. Many viewers will be drawn to the show because of David Tennant, and deservedly so.

Tennant has proven numerous times now that he can play an incredible villain in projects like Bad Samaritan, Secret Smile and The Escape Artist, but this is the best of his worst characters. Nilsen is so dysfunctional and so disturbing that he’ll make your skin crawl, and yet because this is David Tennant, you can’t stop watching him anyway.

However, Des is not a solo vehicle. TV crime drama fans will also appreciate the work of Daniel Mays as Peter Jay, the lead investigator on Nilsen’s case. Mays is a wily veteran of the genre by this point, having starred in crime series like Line of Duty, White Lines, and Public Enemies.

It’d be easy for any actor to get swallowed up by Tennant’s screen presence, or fall into the old “obsessed detective” stereotype, but Mays avoids both those things. He provides the humanity that Tennant isn’t enabled to bring, and becomes essentially the voice of the audience as they try to understand these terrible crimes and the man who perpetrated them.

The cast also includes some other great performers: Jason Watkins (The Crown) as true crime biographer Brian Masters, who’s documenting the case; Ben Bailey Smith (Law & Order: UK) as one of Jay’s team members, and Pip Torrens (Preacher) as Nilsen’s defense attorney. On talent alone, it’s a must-see.

But the three-episode series is also written well. It moves along at a decent clip, only slowing down to let the performances breathe or make the audience that much more uncomfortable. In a genre where so many series aim for grim and gritty but end up just being moody and slow, this is one that gets it right. You’ll be thrilled as a television viewer but genuinely disturbed as a human being.

Watch the Des trailer below to preview the miniseries before you stream the episodes on Sundance Now. But this isn’t a show that you’ll want to watch alone.

Next. Read our interview with Daniel Mays. dark

Des is now streaming exclusively on Sundance Now. Start watching now with a 7-day free trial.