The best family films to watch in the BT TV PlayerJul 21 | 2 min read
Hollywood actor Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, The Hobbit) takes the lead role in ITV’s latest true crime drama, the highly anticipated The Pembrokeshire Murders.
A three-part mini-series depicting the pursuit of cold-blooded, serial killer John Cooper (Keith Allen), the story covers the incredible power of DNA forensic science, a stranger-than-fiction twist involving the ITV quiz show Bullseye and the incredible perseverance and determination of the investigating officers lead by DCI Steve Wilkins (Evans).
Here is everything you need to know about the ITV series…
Is The Pembrokeshire Murders based on a true story?
Yes. The Pembrokeshire Murders is an account of an extraordinary cold case investigation: Operation Ottawa.
In the winter of 1985 and the summer of 1989, two cold-blooded double murders by shotgun were committed in Pembrokeshire, Wales.
In 1985, the victims were local residents, brother and sister, Richard and Helen Thomas. In 1989, the victims were tourists, husband and wife, Peter and Gwenda Dixon. Both crimes were thoroughly investigated but no-one was charged.
In 2006, DCI Steve Wilkins returned to Wales after a stint at Scotland Yard and began a new job as Deputy Head of Dyfed Powys CID. Given the nationwide impact DNA forensic science was having on solving rates in serious crime, Steve decided to put a team together and reinvestigate the two double murders from the '80s. Steve knew that a large number of exhibits from the original investigations into the murders were still in storage and it was his hope that one - maybe more - of the exhibits would yield a DNA hit; that 'Golden Nugget' which would unite killer and victims in time and place.
- December 1985 - Double murder of siblings Richard and Helen Thomas
- May 1989 - John Cooper is a contestant on Bullseye
- June 1989 - Double murder of Peter and Gwenda Dixon
- March 1996 - Milford Haven attack on five children
- 2005 - Operation Ottawa begins and the double murder investigation is reopened
- 2008 - John Cooper is released from prison after serving 14 years for robbery and burglary
- 2011 - John Cooper is sentenced to life imprisonment for the double murders of Richard and Helen Thomas, Peter and Gwenda Dixon and for the Milford Haven attack
Steve believed that one man was responsible for all four murders: a local man by the name of John William Cooper currently doing time for a series of burglaries and robberies. The concern for Steve and his team was that Cooper would soon be up for parole.
The story follows Steve and his team as they race against time to get the forensic evidence to charge their suspect before he was released to potentially kill again.
An astonishing development in the case came when when Steve Wilkins discovered Cooper had appeared on national TV on the quiz show Bullseye, one month before the murder of Peter and Gwenda Dixon. The archive footage of the TV show provided vital evidence as it helped match Cooper to an artist’s impression based on a witness sighting.
The series is inspired by Catching the Bullseye Killer, which was co-written by ex-DCI Steve Wilkins and ITV journalist, Jonathan Hill.
When does The Pembrokeshire Murders start?
The Pembrokeshire Murders started on ITV on Monday, January 11th at 9pm.
You can watch it on catch-up on the ITV Hub.
The second and third episodes air on Tuesday, January 12th and Wednesday, January 13th.
The Pembrokeshire Murders reviews
The series launched with 6.3m viewers - the channel’s biggest overall drama audience since Vera in 2018 and biggest new drama since The Durrells in 2016.
It was the biggest new drama series launch on any channel since June 2020, when The Salisbury Poisonings launched with 7.2m on BBC One.
The Guardian praised the show as one of the finest examples of the true crime drama: "The Pembrokeshire Murders is a perfect example of how to do it well.
"It is sensitive when it needs to be, and never loses sight of who suffered. Ultimately, it is about how the victims were given justice, no matter how long it took, and of the painstaking, precise detective work involved."
How many episodes of The Pembrokeshire Murders are there?
There are three episodes of the true crime drama.
Who are the cast of The Pembrokeshire Murders?
Luke Evans returned to his homeland for his first ever acting project in Wales, playing the lead role of Steve Wilkins.
“I had the privilege of meeting the real Steve Wilkins, he’s a man of honour and integrity,” said Evans.
“It's a huge responsibility that a human being takes on the search for the truth of another human being that doesn’t have a voice any more.
“When you play somebody real, the actual gift of being able to meet that person, the fact that they’re still around is a wonderful thing. Steve had an incredibly interesting career and was involved in some very interesting and serious crimes throughout his career. I just like the guy, he’s got an energy. There’s a fire inside Steve Wilkins.”
Keith Allen (Marcella, Robin Hood) plays the serial killer John William Cooper, David Fynn (Undateable) plays ITV reporter David Fynn, Owen Teale (Game of Thrones) plays prosecuting QC Gerard Elias, while Alexandra Riley (In My Skin) plays one of Steve Wilkins leading team members, DI Ella Richards.
Oliver Ryan plays Andrew Cooper, John’s son, who the killer implicated in the murders when he was under pressure from the police.
Andrew spoke to the series writer Nick Stevens during the development of the series.
“Over the course of several meetings - quietly, frankly and without self-pity - Andrew told me how it had been for him growing up as the abused son of a serial killer,” said the writer.
“He also breathed life into the tragic figure of his mother, Pat, who, in another extraordinary twist, had died of a heart attack on Cooper's first night of freedom after his release from prison in Christmas 2008.”
The full cast list includes:
SIO Steve Wilkins - Luke Evans
John William Cooper - Keith Allen
DC Nigel Rowe - Kyle Lima
DI Lynne Harries - Steven Meo
DS Gareth Rees - Charles Dale
DS Glyn Johnson - Richard Corgan
DI Ella Richards - Alexandria Riley
Pat Cooper - Caroline Berry
Andrew Cooper - Oliver Ryan
Jack Wilkins - Steffan Cennydd
Amy Wilkins - Mabli Jên Eustace
DCS Coles - Rhodri Evan
DCI Jim Morris - Roger Evans
DCI George Jones - William Thomas
Jonathan Hill - David Fynn
Gerard Elias - Owen Teale
Where was The Pembrokeshire Murders filmed?
Luke Evans was spotted by numerous Pembrokeshire locals and Welsh newspapers filming the series in early 2020.
“It’s very much a story of its place, so there was never any question that we weren't going to shoot at least some of the story in Pembrokeshire,” said exec producer Simon Heath.
“But because of the window of opportunity we had to film with Luke, we had to shoot at the very start of 2020, when the weather and conditions were likely to be against us. Knowing these limits, we shot all the key Pembrokeshire exteriors across a period of three weeks, knowing that we would then come back to Cardiff and its surroundings to do many of the interiors in the drama.”
Talking about his first experience of filming in Wales, Evan said: “It’s actually my first time working on a project in Wales so for me it’s very poignant, and also that it is a Welsh story.
“I got to visit some incredibly beautiful parts of Wales as well which was special. It was a joy to come to set and listen to all these beautiful Welsh accents every day. I’ve missed it very much.”
What is The Pembrokeshire Murders theme song and who sings it?
The haunting and beautiful theme music for The Pembrokeshire Murders has caught the imagination of many viewers.
The track is titled Suo Gân and it's a Welsh lullaby that was first recorded in around 1800.
This version is sung by young Welsh boy treble Cai Thomas and was arranged by Line of Duty composer Carly Paradis.
Fans can listen to the song on Spotify and learn more about Cai on his personal website.
Cai Thomas began singing with the Choir of St Thomas-on-the-Bourne at the age of seven. He released his debut album Seren in 2020 and he's been a regular on Classic FM over the last 12 months and was among the finalists in BBC Radio 2's Chorister of the Year contest.
The theme song is available to listen to on Spotify below.
The Pembrokeshire Murders airs on ITV on 11th, 12th and 13th January at 9pm.