The new BBC eight-part drama series Ripper Street is set to hit British and Irish airwaves this autumn, with promotional clips already being broadcast on the station’s ‘original drama’ advert. Set in the late nineteenth century, the series follows the notoriously bleak work of Whitechapel’s police force in London’s East End. Matthew MacFadyen plays the seminal role of Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, a decidedly Holmes-like character. His Watson in tow is an American police surgeon named Captain Homer Jackson, played by Adam Rothenberg. Still reeling in the aftermath of the Jack the Ripper murders, Jackson and Reid must wade through a whole new set of violent assaults, and hope the infamous, evasive murderer never returns.
Working from the premise that the first episode will set the tone for the entire series, this drama is certain to be as sharp as previous BBC period dramas and adaptations such as last year’s Great Expectations. An ambitious first episode introduces us to our main characters as they try to distance themselves from the shadow of the uncaught Ripper and the threat he still presents. Unhelpfully, the first case that we see them come across is a copycat murder. With the help of self-possessed Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) they must protect the victim’s endangered husband and track down the deranged heir of a grand estate before more women are killed. From the outset the unsavoury side of human nature is inspected with attention to detail as each piece of gory evidence is laid before us. In keeping with the sordid ways of the district and the monstrous figure of the Ripper, the episode is replete with violent depictions of prostitution and pornography. What makes the episode stand out from the more limited ‘who did it’ style of plot is the nimble inclusion of other weighty events of the era such as the invention of the moving camera.
As you would expect from a BBC drama, everything from the costumes to the writing is on point. The rhetoric has a specific fluency and sharpness recognisable to the time period and its taste for theatrical dialogue. Once again similar to Conan Doyle’s writing it is a thought-driven drama with fast-paced action. Its sense of urgency and climactic junctures mark it out as a potentially addictive programme. If for no other reason, viewers should tune in to spot Dublin locations, as it was entirely shot over here due to the favourable tax breaks. Clancy Barracks, Phoenix Park and Trinity College are among the sights to see.