The story of Jack the Ripper has been dramatised countless times. TV has long had a fascination with the macabre and brutality of the ripper murders which might explain the excitement and intrigue that has surrounded the BBC’s new drama series Ripper Street since the trailer debuted during the Olympics in early August. Since that small trailer I’ve had countless emails asking when we’d see Ripper Street. It transpires that even production company Tiger Aspect were unsure when the BBC would finally transmit the series. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been looking forward to this series, the dark trailers have certainly done their job in building up interest here. So with all this interest and genuine excitement does Ripper Street live up to expectations?
From the opening scene you know Ripper Street is going to be a tough and violent series. We see a bearded Jerome Flynn fighting bare knuckle, stopping just briefly to pass his opponent one of his loose teeth. Perhaps grandma’s expecting a lighter period piece will be instantly turned off but I found the opening scenes instantly gripping. As the fight reaches its brutal climax another of Jack’s suspected victims is discovered in a dark alley way and cries of ‘murder’ echo across the streets of London. A young policemen races to find his inspector and delivers the news in one of my favourite lines. “They’ve found a tart sir, she’s been Ripped Inspector” If you weren’t drawn in by that opening sequence then I wholeheartedly recommend a trip down the doctors to check your vital signs. If you were, there’s just enough time to catch your breath while the opening titles play.
It’s fair to say Matthew Macfadyen is perfectly suited to his role as Detective Inspector Edmund Reid. He’s tough and focused a joy to watch. Ripper Street never shies away from showing us viewers the more brutal and gruesome aspects of the Ripper case and for that I applaud it, but I have to admit at about the half way point I was starting to getting a little bit restless. I began to fidget, not concentrate as much as I normally would and feel generally unengaged with the action on the screen. If you’re Nan hadn’t be phased by the violence then I’m sure, like me she would’ve been distressed by the explicit sexual nature the story began to take. Not your normal Sunday night fair is it Nan? Don’t get me wrong I’m no prude but I’ve never quite understood why period dramas always seem to focus on bonnets or bottoms. Where’s the middle ground people?! I understand this wasn’t simply for shock value but authentic to the time period but the more the story focused on the brothel and the prostitutes I found myself becoming less and less drawn in with a feeling I’d seen it all before. Macfadyen and the main principal cast do their best with the script but I struggled to regain the excitement I felt in the opening scenes. It’s not even that the pacing is slow, it’s more that I found the story boring.
It’s no spoiler to say that Reid and his men don’t capture Jack in this opener, truth be told we don’t even meet him but then there’s another seven episodes for them to inch ever closer to catching the Ripper. To be honest I have mixed feelings about this opening episode. It was gripping, tense and exciting to begin with but began to drag become less interesting half way through. It hasn’t made me question sticking with the series, I’ll stick with it till the end as it does offer something new but it didn’t exactly wow and thrill me as much as I’d hope for. I don’t think all the blame should be laid at Ripper Street’s door though as I the high expectations I had for this hour would be hard to match, I just hope it can remain engaging and bring something new to the period drama genre as the series develops. If not I fear I’ll get slightly bored and disillusioned with period dramas all over again.