Ripper Street

Well, after months of hype and much speculation, we were finally treated to the first episode of Ripper Street on BBC1 this evening. I’ll be honest that I didn’t have very high expectations of the series – having seen photographs of the foggy Jolly Olde England set and rather over made up cast in their costumes, which seemed to have that flashy, gaudy look reminiscent of those awful Ripper films of the 1960s and 1970s (I’m particularly thinking of A Study in Terror, which had Barbara Windsor playing Annie Chapman – a boggling concept for anyone familiar with the Ripper case although we have to remember that the ‘popular’ idea of the Ripper as a dapper toff and his victims as tawdry, over made up dollymops dates back to the early twentieth century when people didn’t actually have a clear idea of what he’d actually done or what his victims actually looked like as the post mortem photographs of the women concerned weren’t in wide circulation until 1988).

However, the photographs of Ripper Street were clearly misleading as it didn’t actually look all that bad on screen. Despite having been filmed in Dublin, 1880s Whitechapel with all its grime, sinister back alleys and miasma of blank despair was well realised and almost convincing, as were those dubious costumes, which looked much less garishly out of place than expected. The overall appearance, therefore, of Ripper Street wasn’t bad at all, especially with the more than occasional nods to the aesthetic of the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films, which I absolutely love.

It was just everything else that didn’t really work for me, I’m afraid. You’d think that a programme with such a profusion of sexual activity, violence and iniquity would have me on the edge of my seat but I actually found it rather, well, dull. I can’t quite put my finger on what was wrong as it all looked so lushly alluring and there was So Much Going On but it just failed to capture my attention. Maybe it was the oddly stilted script, which sounded almost Shakespearean at times (and not in the manner of Robbie Coltrane’s Godley in From Hell either) rather than Victorian or maybe it was some sort of problem with the plot, which seemed to just plod along in a rather confusing manner? Either way, I just couldn’t love it as much as I hoped to even though it was a relief, as the great-great-great granddaughter of an actual H Division copper who lived and worked in the heart of Whitechapel in the period depicted in Ripper Street, that it wasn’t worse than it was even if my ancestor’s lot were described at one point as ‘alcoholics and incompetents’. Ouch.

As an aside, while it was on, I noticed a lot of chat on Twitter and so on about there being ‘yet another drama fetishising Jack the Ripper and his violence against women’ and thought that once again I’d reiterate that although I am a Ripperologist and have been since my early teens, my interest in the case revolves pretty much entirely around the identity, lives and legacy of his victims both ‘canonical’ and suggested. I don’t like the actions of ‘Jack the Ripper’ being used as an excuse or springboard for ‘entertainment’ that revolves around violence against women but I do think that we should still be talking about the case in the wider context of the social history of the period in general and that of women in particular.

Anyway, what did you think? I wanted it to be more like The Crimson Petal and the White, which was SUPERB but instead, well, it was a bit like The Bill only with bustles. Not that there’s anything wrong with The Bill or indeed with bustles but when you want winsomely decaying Victoriana with an artful touch and a strong central female character who doesn’t seem destined to be either throttled, raped, chopped into bits or beaten around it’s a bit of a disappointment.

13 thoughts on “Ripper Street

  • Caroline

    I haven’t seen it yet but I will as it is a period piece and I can’t refuse those! I understand where you’re coming from. I had medium expectations for BBC America’s “Copper” and while it looked period and felt period, something was off. Your description of “dull” is excellent; despite a murder and abduction mystery, high class rapists, and adolescent prostitutes, I just couldn’t get into it. Which makes me sad because I want to like anything that’s period.

  • Sam

    I didn’t have chance to watch it last night (was watching Borgia, no surprises there ha), but will try and catch it later.

  • Cathy

    It was by no means perfect – the costumes were on the whole a little too ‘stagey’ and overly constructed and failed to convince me they weren’t brand spanking new modern day creations rather than the probably not washed for a year, 3 year old worn every day affairs they would have been. However the sets were wonderful I thought, and the lighting a nice muted grey tone.

    I was engaged throughout, moderately shall we say, mostly because Matthew MacFadyen is a mesmerising actor and he always, always draws me in. I thought the American Doc was a great character too, brilliant but unsympathetic in general. Good stuff.

    I was discussing on Twitter how I hope this doesn’t turn into a kind of Lark Rise type ‘story of the week’ and that the characters themselves and the themes of paranoia are explored with a long running narrative and that the series has something to *say* rather than just being, as you say, The Bill In A Bustle. Here’s hoping!

  • Mike Covell

    I went into this very excited, but like you, I am a Ripperologist and was left feeling let down. There was plenty going on in 1889 that would have made wonderful viewing, but instead we are treated to an absurd plot revolving around pornagraphic snuff movies.

  • Joan

    Like you I found the programme lacking in something but I am not quite sure what. After looking forward to it all week, I too felt a bit let down. However, the three leading men were great characters. Perhaps it will pick next week.

  • breakfast lady

    I agree with you. I thought the dialogue was clunky and I thought Matthew McFadyen wasn’t great – I think it was his accent, which just sounded all wrong to me. And it was all just so unrelentingly grim – murder, suicide, slashings, prostitution, bare-knuckle fighting.

    Though I wouldn’t mind watching a bit more of the American doctor…

  • Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

    We get our chance to see it in the States starting next week. I’m hoping it is not going to be as dull as Copper where all the Irish cops looked alike snd therecwere way too many whores running around compared to the handful of middle to upper class ladies.

  • Douglas

    Have to agree it was a tad disappointing. Costumes a little too theatrical and the storyline predictable. Sex workers as victims yet again…boring. That said it was amusing in its own dull and predictable way. It would be nice to have a ripper scenario where the sex workers are portrayed as real people rather than stereotypes.

  • GaspardW

    Apart from the misogyny – some of which, at least, I think can be excused on the grounds that it’s set in a profoundly misogynist society – I’ve been getting increasingly annoyed at the anachronisms. The first episode, set a matter of weeks before the first British patent for a motion picture camera, featured an officer making the leap from “a toff is murdering women” to “a toff is making snuff films” – and this from someone who has never seen a film presentation in his life. And then the second one opened with a shot of a toy based on the ‘sawing a woman in half’ stage illusion (debuted in 1921) and prominently featured a teddy bear (introduced in 1902).

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