Steeltown Murders is a four-part dramatised miniseries that follows the harrowing rape and murder of three young women, the investigation that followed and the 30-year wait for a breakthrough. Based on a true story about Welsh serial killer Joseph Kappen, all four episodes oscillate between 1973, when the initial investigation took place, and the early 2000s where DNA profiling technology has significantly improved, giving the once dead-end search a new life.
While it keeps its focus on the detectives involved (mainly Paul Bethell), the themes encompass everyone affected. The narrative explores the divide between instinct, logic and evidence in solving crimes, how a person’s shortcomings can lead to relationships deteriorating, survivor’s guilt and how questions of “what if?” can haunt one’s life, sunk-cost fallacy and time invested vs time wasted, the grieving family wondering about the last thoughts of their loved ones, questions of the people who deserve justice against the lack of funds, and time within the police force to continually supply a seemingly losing battle. It’s fascinating to watch the creative methods detectives use in solving the case, doing the most they can with what little they are given.
The casting, makeup and costume design are very well thought-out in terms of connecting past and present characters. Each actor’s mannerisms are reminiscent of their respective characters, indicating that, although time has passed, these people remain the same as the ones from the previous investigation – only now with more experience and much harder exteriors. But all of that is wasted amid the poor execution of the transitions between past and present.
It takes the audience a little bit of time to get used to the differing periods – if they even notice the change at all. This is mostly down to visual representation. Aside from the costumes, there’s no solid effort to highlight the differences between the 1970s and the 2000s. The sets and everything else remain the same, and even the colour filter doesn’t help in creating that divide. Sure, the past is tinted a little warmer but, in most scenes, one can hardly tell the difference. It’s frustrating because one of the main hooks of this narrative is to highlight the technological advances in police solving between then and now, but it’s hard to get on board with that when, visually, both eras in time look identically dull.
Steeltown Murders is released on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on 15th May 2023.
Watch the trailer for Steeltown Murders here: