Sunday, 6 January 2013

Ripper Street: Gruesome and grim but with a vivid style and some 'cockernee' charm

The horrible sexual violence in the final scenes of episode one of Ripper Street - and the slightly daft 'in the nick of time' arrival by 'the blue' during the making of what may have been the first ever 'snuff' movie - may have been a bit too much for some viewers, both for its disturbing content and the attempts at creating a dramatic climatic scene by having the characters dashing about a lot.

You don't really get much drama from running around, or from having the grim mixed with the obvious or the absurd: the perpetrator was (of course) some posh bloke described as 'a toff with whiskers' and had a large film set built in his back garden. How did the neighbours not notice?

But if you are going to set a period crime drama six months after Jack the Ripper's last killing, and have it based in the area he targeted and on the people who lived there, then perhaps prostitution, exploitation and murder is going feature. Heavily.

And if you're going to show this, maybe best make it gruesome and grim, because that's what it was.

Myanna Burning:
Her character's name is 'Long Susan'
However, those lingering shots of a naked, mutilated corpse - the remains of a violinist called Maud from Finchley (one of these new fangled London suburbs, created thanks to the extension of this here new underground railway don't you know) who had posed for pornographic photographs for money - or the sight of Rose the prostitute close to strangulation as she's raped while on camera, is perhaps more suited to a much later time slot, despite warnings beforehand.

But just as disturbing (but for very different reasons) was Matthew Macfadyen's Detective Inspector Reid's amusingly inexplicable praising of the film camera used to shoot the snuff film, coming straight after he saves Rose's life - would your mind not be elsewhere, even if you're a dedicated cop like Reid?

Like we say, the grim mixed with the absurd.

Writer and creator Richard Warlow, writing on the BBC blog, says his intention with the series was to show 'committed lawmen doing the best they can in the most impossible circumstances' and as the series progresses it's becoming clear Ripper Street is more the 'crime of the week' cop-show, and with a presumed intention to run for several series - and season two was commissioned even before episode one went out.

Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg in Ripper Street: 'Heavy on grit'
Child gangs, kidnapping, slavery, cholera, and, erm, industrial action - all are covered in series one, interlinked with developments concerning the main characters' back story, like why Reid has a horribly scarred chest and shoulder, what exactly is troubling his wife, and how (and why) Army surgeon Captain Jackson fled the US and headed for the 'lawless shit storm we can hide ourselves in' along with the curiously named brothel madam Long Susan, or exactly why Sergent Drake is 'a bachelor', and enjoys bare-knuckle fighting and has 'a past' - and all among the 'cockernee' 'knees-up' eastend roll-aht-the-barrah schtick.

But despite the criticisms, it's those character-based elements that will probably keep people watching, and the show has other strengths, too: a good ensemble cast, solid production values and a vivid visual style - and with an intent to be heavy on the grit with an aim for realism.

Except it's also probably completely divisive, too.

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