Having repackaged the tragic cases of Sophie Toscan du Plantier and Madeleine McCann as mass entertainment, it was inevitable Netflix would get around to the death of BBC presenter Jill Dando. The unsolved 1999 killing of the Crimewatch host fits the Netflix model perfectly. It involves the gunning down in broad daylight of a beloved celebrity, a host of conspiracy theories – and culminates in an exclusive interview with the man convicted and then acquitted of the murder. Plus, as the crime is ultimately unsolved, the producers can stir in as much speculation as they wish. Behold a tragedy forged in true-crime heaven.
But Who Killed Jill Dando? (Netflix from Tuesday, September 26th) also suffers from the many weaknesses of the Netflix format. It is over-long and crammed with irrelevant details. That said, Irish viewers will sit up when, halfway through its three episodes, the action switches suddenly to Cork, and the camera pans across the intersection of the Grand Parade and South Mall. What’s happening?
What’s happening is that we are about to be introduced to Barry George, who was convicted of killing Dando, only for his case to be overturned after he had spent eight years behind bars. He now lives in Cork, close to his sister. She had campaigned for his release, bringing on board human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield, who had previously represented the Birmingham Six and the family of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
The story of Dando’s rise from local TV in Plymouth to the dizzying heights of the BBC news division is relayed in exhaustive detail. A former boyfriend and boss – this was the 1990s – recalls how she was encouraged to change her “provincial” hair to something more chic. She opted for a Diana-style cropped look: it is implied she was first to wear her hair in this fashion and that Diana copied her.
When Dando was shot outside her former place of residence in Fulham, the police immediately interviewed all the significant figures in her life. BBC news editor Bob Wheaton – also her ex – was questioned after it emerged that he owed Dando a considerable sum of money. But his name was cleared. As was that of her agent, Jon Roseman, who came to the authorities’ interest when it was revealed that he’d written a book about an agent whose clients are getting bumped off.
There was a suggestion of Serbian involvement. This was at the height of the Kosovo conflict. Nato had just bombed a Belgrade TV building. Was Dando the victim of a state-sponsored retribution?
The idea that loner George killed her is dismissed by Roseman. “If anybody in this documentary, who you interview, says that Barry George did it, I think they need to see somebody ... get help,” he says. However, Hamish Campbell, the London Met detective who put together the case against George and who had a memorable courtroom face-off against the imperious Mansfield, has a different perspective.
The documentary’s director, Marcus Plowright, previously explored the case with 2019 BBC film The Murder of Jill Dando. That feature clocked in at an economical 60 minutes. Here, with nearly three hours to fill, there is too much padding – and yet the viewer never gets a clear sense of Dando as a person. There’s lots about her haircut and her popularity with middle England. But she remains remote and unknowable – another tragic cipher fed into the Netflix true-crime machine.