TV Review: Ripper Street Series 2

“You believe in laws but there are only lechers”

For some reason or other, I stopped watching the second series of Ripper Street midway through and it’s taken me until now to finally finish it. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s more likely to do with running out of time to watch it on the iPlayer or something but anyhoo, I’ve managed it now. My review of Series 1 (which I thoroughly appreciated) is over here and I have to say that that enjoyment has continued, even if I do have a few reservations about its female voices.

It’s a shame that in a crime procedural led by three men, two of the leading supporting female characters did not return for this second series. DI Reid’s wife and kind-of-mistress (Amanda Hale and Lucy Cohu) are both MIA, losing all the work done to establish them, and though Leanne Best is introduced as a local politician who can’t help but flirt with Reid (he’s played by Matthew Macfadyen after all), the overall weight of the series does thus feel a little unbalanced.

There’s work to address that in the elevation of MyAnna Buring’s Long Susan to a major character and stories that look at wider contemporary women’s issues – the phosphorus poisoning or Phossy jaw that disproportionately affected matchgirls, the rising suffrage movement and tangentially related, shifting attitudes towards the illegality of homosexuality. And I admire the way in which the writing rarely forces its lead characters to have some direct experience of the issue of the week in the same some long-running dramas do. 

Similarly, there’s no real overarching narrative across the series, which actually works quite well, freeing the writers to focus more fully on exploring social and economic issues of the time – 1890 to be precise. The electrification of society, the Irish question, the opium trade, interfaith co-operation in a fast-growing city; and baser notes of the human condition that remain ever pertinent, evil bankers, the manipulation of the weak, the exploitation of the poor, the desperate satiation of appetites sexual or otherwise.

So whilst Jerome Flynn’s Drake and Adam Rothenberg’s Jackson may not necessarily make the biggest leaps and bounds in terms of their characters, their support of the stories is excellently done, especially in dealing with Joseph Mawle’s marvellously malevolent Inspector Shine whose antics bookend the series. And Ripper Street’s ability to attract top quality acting talent remains unabated with the likes of David Dawson’s intrepid reporter, Paul Ready’s officious surgeon, Neve McIntosh’s insurgent leader, Joseph Drake’s achingly human Merrick (aka The Elephant Man), Paul Kaye’s demogogue and human punctuation mark himself Tom Brooke. Now onto Series 3!

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