A look at the eight-episode first series of BBC’s Ripper Street
The stage is set in the East End of London in 1889, in the aftermath of the infamous Jack The Ripper’s serial killings. Six months after Jack has gotten away with his crimes – to the dismay of both the public and the police force in Whitechapel – people are just starting to move on, when suddenly the killings seem to start up again.
Ripper Street follows three main male characters: Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) is the serious and dedicated Detective Inspector of Whitechapel, whose young daughter’s disappearance and presumed death post-boating accident is causing tension in his marriage.
Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn, probably best known for his role as Bronn in Game of Thrones) is a veteran of the Anglo-Egyptian War of 1882 who is currently acting as Reid’s surly but loyal Detective Sergeant. He can be described as the “brawn” of the group; in the first scene we see him in, he’s undercover beating some guy up in the 1889 version of Fight Club. And it is awesome.
Lastly, there is a mysterious American surgeon and ex-Pinkerton by the name of Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), who seems to be running from something or someone dark in his past.
Though there is a definite focus on the male characters, there are also several notable (and wonderful) female characters: Lovely + Badass Lady Emily Reid (Amanda Hale) is Detective Reid’s slightly-estranged wife. Sadly enough, she’s less hopeful of her daughter’s potential survival than her husband, and deals with her grief by throwing herself into church and charity work.
Susan (MyAnna Buring) owns and manages a brothel on Tenter Street that is a center for a lot of drama throughout the course of the series. She shares a past with Jackson, who she allows to live with her and the girls at the brothel even though her attitude towards him is largely dismissive.
Deborah Goren is the governess of a Jewish orphanage who becomes smitten with Reid after a case in which he saved a boy under her care. She pops up every now and again throughout the series. With Reid feeling emotionally and physically adrift from his wife, he is drawn to her kindness.
There’s also Rose (Charlene McKenna), a sweet and ambitious young prostitute at Susan’s brothel. Drake has a bit of a crush on her, which is adorable as all hell (but be warned, their story is a little bittersweet).
I marathoned a good portion of the first series all in one day, which made for a uniquely engaging experience. The show is mildly episodic – there’s an elaborate “case of the week” for each episode – but there was a big emphasis on the characters and their back stories and relationships with one another, rather than on the cases themselves, which was something that I really appreciated. And for a show that’s named after a serial killer, there is very little mention of Jack the Ripper beyond the first and last episodes; in terms of the title’s meaning, the show focuses more on the “Street” portion of the title – AKA the community where those killings occurred.
There have been some people who compared it to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, and while I do recognize the similarities – the late 1800s London setting, for instance, along with the sleuthing, the emphasis on male-oriented violence and grittiness, the jarringly similar opening credits – they are inherently very different works. And while Ripper Street isn’t a-mah-zing, it was for me a pretty entertaining and fun watch.
Ripper Street has been renewed for a second season, set to air early 2014 (which means more brooding Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn on my screen! Wooo!)
Have you seen/do you plan to watch Ripper Street? What did you think about the finale? Comment below!