Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ripper Street: Must See TV

TV's latest hot  trend?
I'm saying it's nineteenth century detectives.
Like Inspector Murdoch as impersonated by Yannick Bisson on CBC-TV's Murdoch Mysteries just starting its sixth season.
Then there's another detective saga called Copper set in 1864 New York city and starring Tom Weston-Jones. It is also being filmed in Toronto.
And  now let's welcome Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) in the new eight-part BBC series Ripper Street.
As the title suggests here is the sort of slice of British history you'll never see on  Masterpiece Theatre which prefers its dramas to be of the teacup variety.
But in Ripper Street we are shown 1889 London as a sweet cesspool of poverty and prostitutes for hire.
The setting is East London just after Jack The Ripper's reign of terror. And as we see the tabloid press is given to promoting any murder as the expected return of Jack.
Denizens of Whitechapel are naturally nervous and then one night on a tour of Jack's haunts the guide stumbles upon the freshly mutilated corpse of a girl of the streets and the public frenzy begins again.
In sort order we are introduced to Inspector Reed (Matthew Macfadyen) who understands quick thinking is needed to avert scenes of mass public hysteria.
His sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) is first glimpsed scoring a knockout in a boxing match.
And we see the medical backup is former Pinkerton detective and U.S. army surgeon Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) who willingly performs autopsies with none of the modern tools to aid him.
I'm not the only critic who has noticed similarities between Copper and Ripper Street. In Copper a freed ex-slave (Ato Asandoh) proves forensic skills much like the army surgeon.
And both heroes feature taciturn heroes who have lost daughters and are haunted by memories.
In the case of Reid and wife Emily (Amanda Hale), their collective feelings of loss are slowly driving them apart.
The Victorianism of Ripper Street includes one of childhood poverty and outbreaks of cholera which ravaged whole sections of the population.
The lavishness of this production certainly the recreations in Murdoch and Copper. It's a surprise to learn the series was made in Ireland --apparently there are simply so many examples of urban Victorian architecture still standing in and around Dublin.
The seedier side of Victoriana has bare knuckle boxing and dens of prostitution to service wealthy clientele. In one scene (remember it's 1889) there's an attempt to record a violent sexual encounter between a dissolute toff and a poor girl who is almost strangled to death. And all in the same brothel frequented by Dr. Jackson.
Despite the title Ripper Street has nothing much to do with Jack. There were so many Whitechapel murders at the time that a fresh murder crops up every week.
MY RATING: ****.

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