|Shadow of the Ripper – Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and Drake (Jerome Flynn). Pics: BBC|
BBC1: Sunday, 30 December, 9pm
Story: Between the factories, rookeries, chop shops and pubs of Whitechapel, Inspector Edmund Reid is trying to move police work on from the horrors of the recent Jack the Ripper killings. However, one of the first cases he encounters looks like another Ripper outrage…
Jack the Ripper, the pin-up boy among serial killers, has been done to death (so to speak) by movies, documentaries, TV dramas, fiction and non-fiction books.
|Rose gets caught in the killer’s net|
So much so that these days any new take on his infamous legend tends to skate round his presence, with ITV1’s Whitechapel transporting his spirit to the modern East End, and now Ripper Street taking us back to H Division in the period just after his murder spree mysteriously halted.
The action begins six months after the horrors, when the hysteria around them can still ignite mob mayhem. So when someone shouts, ‘They’ve found a tart, inspector – she’s been ripped,’ a rabble descends on the alleyway crime scene and Inspector Reid has his work cut out preserving the evidence.
Ripper hysteria whipped up by the press
Reid, played by Matthew Macfadyen, is a new sort of officer, trying to make up for the past failures of sloppy coppering by taking a more scientific approach to crime solving. His new-fangled ideas are little understood by diehards such as his predecessor, Frederick Abberline – a character based on the real chief inspector who investigated the Ripper killings.
|Reid investigates the alleyway murder|
Reid also has to battle the press, particularly the reporter Fred Best, who scrawls ‘Down on Whores’ in the alley to stir up further Ripper hysteria to flog papers.
It’s a bustling start to this new eight-part series, which is nevertheless a bit clunky in getting across just how wide-eyed the Victorians were at the wonders of the age – characters speaking in awe about every mod con around them, from underground steam trains to moving pictures and the porn industry.
|MyAnna Buring as Long Susan|
When it turns out that the victim, Maude Thwaite, had been posing in naughty photographs after her middle-class husband fell on hard times, Reid and his assistants, Sergeant Drake (Jerome Flynn) and an American surgeon called Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), are drawn into the burgeoning pornographic industry. Together, the team proves Reid’s theory that Maude was not a victim chanced upon by the Ripper.
The drama is split between a fascination with the murky Victorian world of bare-knuckle fighting and lawless streets, and highlighting emerging new developments that are familiar in today’s world, such as forensics, movies and pathology.
Much of the action is brutal in this opener and the crime is disturbing – and perhaps a bit too modern for the Victorian age. Another niggle was characters using the odd phrase that seemed ahead of its time – I don’t think Jackson would say, ‘Show and tell, Susan.’
Reid is tormented by a past mistake
The success of the series will depend on how well the period is re-imagined and depicted – and whether the characters flourish.
Here, episode one looked promising. We got a glimpse of Reid’s strained home life with his wife and picked up on the fact that he is haunted by some past mistake. There is also tension between Drake, Reid’s pitbull, and the libertine Jackson, who is apparently a former Pinkerton in the US but has some dodgy past with the madam, Long Susan (MyAnna Buring).
Ripper Street has a decent stab (apologies) at transporting the police procedural back to the early days of modern coppering. And while it won’t reveal who the psycho was, of course, it’s clear that even without Jack, Whitechapel circa 1889 was still a pretty terrifying place.
Cast: Matthew Macfadyen Inspector Edmund Reid, Jerome Flynn Sergeant Bennet Drake, Adam Rothenberg Captain Homer Jackson, MyAnna Buring Long Susan, Amanda Hale Emily Reid, Lucy Cohu Deborah Goren, Charlene McKenna Rose, Jonathan Barnwell Constable Dick Hobbs, David Wilmot Sergeant Donald Artherton, David Dawson Fred Best, Clive Russell Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline