The Version Interview... Martin Compston on itv's In Plain Sight

In Plain Sight is a new three-part mini-series based on the true story of Lanarkshire detective William Muncie’s quest to bring to justice notorious Scottish killer Peter Manuel. 

Douglas Henshall (Collision, Shetland) takes the role of William Muncie whilst Peter Manuel is played by Martin Compston (Line of Duty).

Muncie first arrested Manuel in 1946 for housebreaking, but also successfully convicted him for a string of sexual assaults. Manuel vowed revenge. 

Released from prison in 1955, Manuel embarked on a two-year killing spree, claiming eight lives in the close-knit communities of South Lanarkshire. 

Manuel evaded capture for so long because he was unlike anything the local police had ever encountered: A murderer without any discernible motive whose victims were chosen at random. Muncie was the one man who had Manuel’s measure and doggedly refused to give up until Manuel was brought to justice.

Martin Compston tells us more...

Q: Coming from Greenock, did you know about this story before taking on the role?

A lot of people in Scotland know about Peter Manuel. But I don’t think many people of my age would be aware of the depth of his crimes. It was really shocking when I started looking into it. My parents knew about the big murders but even they didn’t know about a lot of his crimes. So it was a bit of an eye-opener. It was such a vile series of crimes.

There are no redeeming features about Peter Manuel. We are in no way glorifying him. He is an evil man. When you look at the details of the story and the fact he defended himself in court, it’s insanity. The sheer brazenness and confidence of the man was astonishing. He was the ultimate narcissist. An evil, evil man. “Before we started filming I read the books written about him and these crimes and also watched the documentaries. But we’re making a drama. It’s not a documentary. The scripts are really strong. I went to Manuel’s real house one night after shooting. Just to sit outside. All the murders were in a 10-minute area. It’s a horrific kill zone in this tiny area. The community must have been terrified.

From what my aunts have told me, people in Greenock were locking their doors. People driving an hour and a half away were terrified. It put a fear right across the west coast of Scotland.


Q: We first meet Peter Manuel at the age of 18. Were there any warning signs then that he was a killer?

There was a story I read about when he was 14 and he escaped from borstal. He had broken into a woman’s house, she woke up and he was hitting her over the head with an axe. I remember them saying, ‘That was a warning sign.’ That’s not a warning sign. That’s attempted murder. So from early on he really had that killer instinct within him. From being a teenager. “That first scene features Manuel and police officer William Muncie (Douglas Henshall). Manuel has not found his confidence yet as a criminal. In those early years he’s committing crimes and just hoping he doesn’t get caught. That changes in the later years.

He spends time in Peterhead Prison, which is a hard jail. That gave him a criminal education. By the time he’s served a prison sentence and comes out, he believes he is a criminal mastermind. There was also a physical difference. He went into prison as a boy and came out a man.


Q: What has it been like working with Douglas Henshall as Muncie?

We lived next door in our flats during filming. So we were out quite a bit. Dougie is an old pro at this so it was nice to be working with him. Our only scenes together were filmed in the first and last weeks. But we passed each other every day. He’s also in one of my favourite films of all times, Orphans, with Gary Lewis, who is also in Muncie playing William Watt. So it’s been nice seeing the two of them. Dougie looks the part. He’s definitely got a presence.


Q: You had worked with the director John Strickland before on Line of Duty. Does that help?

It’s nice to have somebody directing that you’ve already built a trusting working relationship with. Especially with this dark character and knowing how far to go with him and when to pull back. We worked together on the last Line of Duty, which went down quite well.

So we’ve already got quite a successful partnership, as it were. John has been great at guiding me through this. It was funny when people reported this role of Peter Manuel as me crossing over to the other side of the law. I’ve actually probably played the bad guy a lot more than the good guy over the course of my career. 

Q: Were you able to leave the role behind at the end of the day?

The older I’ve got I’ve become a lot more comfortable with doing that. Maybe a couple of years ago I would have been locked in a room at night. But now I feel much more confident and can lock into the character 10 or 15 minutes before we do a scene.


Q: How would you sum up Peter Manuel?

Pure evil. He really was. That’s the only way you can sum him up. There was nothing good about him. They call him the devil incarnate in Scotland. They did believe he had the devil in him. “You always have to remember his victims were real people. This really happened. He really did these things. Manuel was an evil, evil man.


In Plain Sight is coming soon to itv