Jack the Ripper, Michael Caine on DVD

Jack the Ripper Michael Caine JaneSeymour

Ripping yarn – Michael Caine and Jane Seymour

★★★ DVD

Special features

jacktheripper BD 3D bigTHEY DON’T MAKE ‘EM like this anymore. Produced in 1988 to mark the centenary of the most infamous serial killer of all, this Michael Caine two-parter was a huge TV hit when first aired.

Not only did the mini-series coincide with the centenary, it was also broadcast in the US and UK in October, right in the middle of the timeframe of the original five Whitechapel horror-killings – 31 August-9 November 1888. To add to the versimilitude, Hugh Fraser as Met Commissioner Sir Charles Warren, even wore the real Warren’s clothing.

To modern eyes, however, this Thames-CBS co-production looks dated. It has a cloyingly over-the-top musical score, while the production period look just has a very fake, stagey feel to it. Today’s period dramas look far, far more convincing. Nevertheless, it won two Golden Globes (Caine and Amand Assante) and a Bafta (Assante).

Jane Seymour and Lewis Collins

The American money perhaps helped to finance an interesting cast. In addition to Caine and Assante, there were roles for Jane Seymour of Dr Quinn and Live and Let Die fame, The Professionals‘ Lewis Collins pops up, along with Susan George and the terrific Ray McAnally (My Left Foot, The Mission).

Jack the Ripper starring Michael Caine

Mean streets – as recreated in Pinewood Studios

According to Jane Seymour, Caine preferred to do only one take on his scenes before heading off for lunch with his wife. Having said that, he throws himself into the role of Chief Inspector Abberline.

The plot unfolds as a whodunit but has no great revelations about whodunit, largely inspired by the once popular Masons/Royal Family theories. It’s diverting as a relic from TV’s past, but not thought-provoking or particularly gripping.

Distributor: Network
Blu-ray/DVD RRP: £19.99/£14.99
Running Time: 198mins / 189mins
2 Discs
Special Features: Image Gallery. Feature-length widescreen version. Brand-new Dolby 5.1 mix
Certificate: 15

Ripper Street BBC1 with Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn, MyAnna Buring PREVIEW

Shadow of the Ripper – Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and Drake (Jerome Flynn). Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★½ 

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

Pornographic pictures
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 BestClive Russell Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline

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Read on: Metropolitan Police sit on Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper unmasked? Whitechapel 3 DVD and Justified 4

• Jack the Ripper is unmasked – again – tonight on the Yesterday channel (Wednesday, 7 March, 9pm). Like the Who Killed Kennedy? industry, the Who Was Jack? phenomenon has supported a feverish army of theorists and scribes almost since the crimes were committed. In Prime Suspect: Jack the Ripper the story heads to Australia, where apparently there has been a new development. There lies the skull of Fredrick Bailey Deeming, Down Under’s first serial killer. He was executed in 1892, four years after the Whitechapel horrors, but was also a suspect in the London killings. Now DNA has been extracted from his skull. Is there a link to Jack?

• Speaking of Whitechapel, series 3 of ITV1‘s spooky drama about the East End cops tracking down ghosts of the criminal past comes out on DVD on 12 March. Having explored the Jack the Ripper and Kray myths, the team including Rupert Penry-Jones, Steve Pemberton and Phil Davis have just finished skulking around in the shadows reliving legendary crimes such as the Thames Torso Murders and the Ratcliffe Highway Murders. ‘We’re basing this on stuff that really did happen,’ says Pemberton in The Psychology of Fear, one of the two short documentaries that make up the extras here. ‘So that’s unsettling.’ The second doc is Whitechapel – The Past Uncovered, which gleefully looks at the horrible crimes that ‘inspired’ these ‘gothic thrillers’, as producer David Boulter calls them. This has been a bizarre series, but there’s no doubting it oozed a creepy atmosphere.
 • Great news for Justified devotees. Series 3 is yet to hit the UK but is doing well enough in the States for FX to announce it will make another 13-part season and fourth outing for Timothy Olyphant as the Stetson-wearing, gun-toting deputy US marshal. ‘Justified is one of television’s best series and this season has reinforced that excellence,’ FX’s EVP of original programming Nick Grad said.

• There is a new Inspector Singh novel coming out concerning A Curious Indian Cadaver. This is the latest in the series written by Shamini Flint, who was born in Malaysia and studied law at the University of Kent. Her novels about the portly, dishevelled and wheezing Singh have sold 500,000 copies and are compared to McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe, while also boasting clever, taut plots. In the latest adventure, Singh grudgingly agrees to attend a family wedding in Mumbai, when the bride disappears. Can it be long before the TV execs come calling on Shamini?

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Whitechapel ITV1 PREVIEW

Rating ★★★

ITV1, 9pm Monday 11th October

A man’s been pinned to a snooker table with a bayonet. Another’s had his buttocks slashed. The cops are on the take, and victims are afraid

(Pics: ©ITV)

to talk…

It’s just like the old days when the Krays cruised East London dishing out backhanders and beatings.

In Whitechapel 2, no sooner has a copycat Jack the Ripper been dispatched by Rupert Penry-Jones and Philip Davis, then – gawd help us – but a Kray twins novelty act turns up on the manor.

Whitechapel’s first outing, last year, was fresh and spiky enough to be an engrossing yarn about the East End’s notorious serial killer.

The announcement that ITV was going to attempt the formula again – this time regurgitating the Kray killings – suggested they were flogging a horse now floating lifeless in the Thames.

But while some of the gloss has inevitably gone from the premise, Whitechapel 2 still cherishes the folklore and ‘geezer aesthetic’ enough to make this an atmospheric jaunt into the past.

Chelsea smile
Writers Ben Court and Caroline Ip showed with their original an appreciation of East End history and atmosphere, and that comes out well in the detail of Whitechapel 2. Identifying a corpse by the ‘last’ (or the wooden mould) of his handmade shoe, or recounting the gang punishment known as a Chelsea smile (a cutlass is used to slice a victim’s mouth wide open) are throwbacks that give this drama its vintage, violent texture.

Once again the major part of Whitechapel’s good points are the characters. In the original, Penry-Jones as uptight DI Chandler struggled to prove himself worthy of fronting the Ripper investigation. This time, it is his sergeant, the streetwise and sour Miles (Phil Davis), who appears out of his depth and rattled as some strangely reminiscent slashings and a murder suggests the Krays stalk the East End once again.

Steve Pemberton returns as the oddball amateur sleuth Buchan, breathlessly reliving every juicy detail of every lengendary murder. It is he who predicts the next killing will echo that of Jack The Hat McVitie in 1969, much to Miles’s annoyance.

‘Rock stars of murder’
‘The Krays were the original British gangsters,’ Buchan says, almost salivating. ‘They invented the firm. They were the rock stars of murder.’

It’s all complete tosh, and not as good as the first series. But the three leads still spark off each other, and the whole production captures a strange duality between past and present, using period footage and sound eerily.

One scene has Miles taking Chandler to an East End pub. He asks his boss to look round and tell him what he sees. In the gloom sit old lags with busted noses and facial scars, looking like ghosts from forgotten gang fights.

And you can just imagine two stocky blokes in Italian suits marching into the pub and freezing every conversation.

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