These Streets Demand Your Vigilance: Ripper Street

Ripper Street title card

I don’t know about you, dear Wanderers, but frankly, I hate Sunday evenings. Perhaps it’s the prospect of another five days before getting a proper lie in, or the last minute rush to get things organised before the horror of Monday morning. However, in recent weeks, I have found myself actually looking forward to Sunday evening. In fact, I’ve been counting down the hours until it’s time to brew a good cup of tea and settle down on the sofa to watch a brand new crime drama from the BBC – Ripper Street.

This latest offering from BBC One takes two of the things that I love most – a good detective story and the Victorian era and then mixes them together to generate a fantastically gritty and foreboding drama. Ripper Street concentrates on the activities and casework of a police station set in one of the roughest areas of East London. In these streets, Jack the Ripper, an infamous serial killer, is still a vivid and recent memory for both Londoners and the police officers who serve them. Instead of re-examining the hunt for this most famous of Victorian killers, Ripper Street chooses to focus on a range of issues and criminal activities experienced in the Victorian East End such as pornography, child-gangs and robbery. From the very beginning, it is clear that this series is definitely not one to watch with younger members of the family or indeed anyone who is simply on the squeamish side. The audience is dragged into the dirty, violent and morally complex world of Victorian London from the very start as a young, fresh-faced police officer interrupts a brutal and illegal boxing match.

Of course, as with every crime drama, there are certain stereotypical characters to be found both in the police station and outside it. However, the beauty of this series, is that it takes its time to slowly fill out the details so that each episode gives us a further insight into the characters. Inspector Edmund Reid (played by Matthew Macfadyen, a former Mr Darcy) is the highly driven, honourable and intelligent leader of this particular police division. However, he also possesses a ruthless streak, he has no qualms about assaulting a junior police officer to maintain his cover and is more than willing to use questionable interrogation techniques. Naturally, our would-be hero is tormented by a mysterious event in his past which has led to the breakdown of his marriage and influences the manner in which he investigates certain cases. Sergeant Bennet Drake, (Jerome Flynn) provides us with the dedicated, loyal but slightly overlooked deputy. Given his past as an ex-soldier and his tendency to use brute force, it would be easy to dismiss Drake as a thug in uniform. However, the series explores how men from an impoverished, working class background like Drake try to make the most of the opportunities provided to them by the military and police. Drake and Reid’s working relationship is unsettled by a flashy newcomer in the form of an American surgeon Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg).

There is no shortage of strong female leads in this drama despite it being a male dominated world. Inspector Reid’s wife, Emily (Amanda Hale), proves herself to be a determined and compassionate woman who is more than willing to place her own life in danger to help women and children escape from the streets. Lets not forget the obligatory ‘tart with a heart’, which could be the cool and collected brothel-keeper Long Susan (MyAnna Buring, of Twilight fame) who shares a secretive and potentially dangerous past with Captain Jackson. Oh, and there simply has to be a regular adversary for the lead hero – in this series it appears to be the sometimes malicious, sometimes helpful but always deliciously swarmy Fred Best, (David Dawson) a reporter for The Daily Star.

Aside from the well-crafted and intriguing characters, it is the ability of Ripper Street to capture the hustle and bustle of daily life in one of the largest and dirtiest cities in the nineteenth century which has made me fall in love with this series. I would absolutely love to know where they have found all these wonderful locations with the Victorian style warehouses, cobbled streets, narrow alley ways and grand mansions. The architecture and the set design make significant contributions to successfully recreating the past. In particular, the ‘dead room’ or, in modern terms, the mortuary of the police station demonstrates incredible attention to detail and illustrates how modern features such as electricity were just becoming more widespread. Can you tell I’m a bit of a history geek?

The cases are well-plotted and thought-provoking; they involve issues which are still controversial and emotive over a century later in modern criminal justice systems including the treatment of vulnerable victims by the police and exactly how far officers can go to retrieve information from a suspect when innocent lives are at stake. Although the series deals with some very serious and grim issues, it still contains a sense of optimism about the future and how people’s lives will be changed by technology such as the London Underground. There is quite a bit of dark humour – particularly with the characters of Sergeant Drake and Captain Jackson as they clash over cases, women and pretty much anything else!

Despite only being half way through the first series, I desperately wanted to review this Victorian police drama because I simply couldn’t wait to tell people just how brilliant it is. I have high expectations for the rest of the episodes and I’m confident that they will live up to my very exacting standards. So, between this new show and the return of the always fantastic Being Human, it appears Sunday evenings are going to be quite enjoyable for the next few weeks…

I would give this show four out of five because it contains some violent and disturbing content which may be upsetting to viewers.

Red Hamilton (is geeking out all over the historical references)

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This entry was posted in Issue Seventeen, Reviews, TV and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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