TV Review: Ripper Street Series 1

“Whitechapel calls you back”

Victorian crime procedural Ripper Street burst onto our screens at the beginning of this year with a blood-spattered élan and a perhaps more violent streak than many were expecting, but it grew to be a most successful series with audiences (and me) and has since been renewed for a second series. Set in Whitechapel, the first episode had a Jack the Ripper focus, which with the title of the show, proved a bit of misdirection in terms of the series as a whole as the crimes that H Division ended up investigating were of a hugely wide-ranging nature and not just focused on the notorious serial killer (although the Ripper’s exploits did form a backdrop to part of the series-long arc).

It’s a period of history, and particularly social history, that I have long found interesting (I studied it as part of my degree) as notions of crime and punishment were rapidly changing and the nature of policing was also changing with the introduction of a more scientific approach to solving crimes. So Matthew Macfadyen’s DI Reid and Jerome Flynn’s DS Flynn are joined by US army surgeon Captain Jackson, played by Adam Rothenburg, as they work their way through the serious crimes, civil unrest, and personal vendettas that crop up on a weekly basis.

I enjoyed the series immensely, finding it well-written – balancing something of a romp with the much darker undertones that frequently rear their ugly head – and impeccably performed. The three leads were all strong but a mark of the show’s quality – written and directed by Richard Warlow – is the calibre of the supporting cast that it managed to attract to each episode. With the likes of Iain Glen, Amanda Drew, Paul McGann, Penny Downie and Beverley Klein popping up as criminal masterminds, corrupt councillors and grieving widows, each episode was a thesp-filled treat – something made even better by the presence of such especial favourites David Dawson, Amanda Hale and of course Lucy Cohu – the reason for this review – as recurring characters.

Dawson’s conniving journalist is good, Hale’s grief-stricken wife of DI Reid is also strong although perhaps a little too close to the typecasting that characterises her TV roles, and Cohu brings her customary emotional depth to the orphanage governess Deborah Goren, laden with a tragic past and inexorably drawn to the unhappily married Reid and she shares wonderful chemistry with Macfadyen so I really hope she returns with the show. If nothing else, her presence gives lie to the early protests that the show was misogynistic as its only portrayals of women were as whores or mothers and that they got the majority of the violence but across the series this just wasn’t the case and a show set at that time has to reflect the reality – to put a woman in the police force would just be wrong. But barely-there controversies aside, I reckon it is well worth renting the DVDs or buying the boxset.

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