‘Ripper Street’ episode 1: ‘I Need Light’ Review

BBC One’s new drama ‘Ripper Street’ offered a dark Sunday night treat.

Ripper Street
It’s 1889 and the foggy streets of Whitechapel once stalked by Jack The Ripper throw up another horrible murder case.  The young woman’s death carries most of the hallmarks of the ripper and everyone jumps to the conclusion that Jack is back, everyone except Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen).  Jack hasn’t killed for a year but the fear is still there.  Edmund has a battle on his hands; to find the killer and calm the hysteria generated by the press.  Assisted by Detective Sergeant Bennett Drake (Jerome Flynn) and American Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) they find themselves in the seedy snuff industry.  The killer isn’t Spring Heeled Jack but a toff with very disturbing fetishes. The peoples fears are silenced for now and Edmund is relieved, horrible murders will follow but the fear generated by the ripper has had people hiding in their homes and he’s hoping he won’t return for their sake.

Although grim at times there is a little fun to be had as the three find themselves trapped in a burning building and need to blow a door off with gunpowder.  The three leads are great although Richard Warlow‘s script doesn’t give them a lot of great dialogue to work with.  Edmund is level-headed and fairly decent by Victorian policeman standards although he does hold people up against walls and doesn’t mind using Bennett’s fists to help with interrogations.  Bennet’s the hard as nails copper and Homer is the forensics expert who has a penchant for brothels.  The female characters include Edmund’s wife who only has five minutes of screen time and the rest work at the brothel.  MyAnna Buring‘s brothel owner has an intriguing relationship with Homer that will no doubt unravel soon. You get the feeling that women wont be represented that much in this series only showing up as prostitutes and corpses.

East End Victorian London is brilliantly re-created, it feels like a living breathing place and not just a dressed street. The squalor and bustling streets showing what an unpleasant place it really was.  It’s nice to see a period drama that isn’t sanitised and looks at the darker side of the past whereas shows like Downton Abbey and Call The Midwife are a bit of cosy Sunday night drama, though of course there is a difference in time period.

Although the violence and the other unpleasant elements are pretty hard to watch its a bold start to the series, it will probably lose a few viewers next week as it might prove too much for some.  I did find it a little unsettling but also a very good watch, the Sunday night drama gap has been filled.