Tag Archives: Jack the Ripper


What if someone had discovered the knives used by Jack the Ripper?
What if they went missing?
What if he came back into our world?

Damian Michael Barcroft finds out in an exclusive interview with the film’s co-writers and directors, Ian Powell and Karl Ward…

Razors0Damian: Razors is a British independent film and the first in a new horror franchise. The story concerns the discovery of the knives used by Jack the Ripper. Are you using the iconography associated with the Whitechapel murders of 1888 for cinematic and dramatic effect or is there also particular reference made to any of the suspects and their history?

Ian: We don’t really make reference to the suspects in the first film, but certainly the inclusion of the Ripper is not there purely for cinematic effect. The location where the story is set is pretty unique and has a resonance and relevance to the Ripper story. It isn’t in fact the Asylum where we originally intended to shoot, but a building in Islington that dates from the 1880’s, and was originally a veterinary hospital for horses. It is now used as a club, but its Victorian origins are all too obvious when you venture into the depths of the building, something we have enhanced by lighting the old brick stairways with flaming candles. As the central story is about a group of very genre aware screenwriters, using the location to inspire the writing of a ground breaking horror story, one of the leaping off points for the film is a questioning of the morality of writing a horror film, and especially one written around real events. The Ripper killed five real women in terrible ways and without wishing to give the game away it is the victims who take on a special significance in the film. The screenwriters are haunted by the ghost of a little girl from the Ripper’s time, she is trying to bring their attention to a terrible event from the past and part of the mystery for the audience is working out her identity.

Karl: For Razors the focus is more on the horror and fear of what the Ripper did to his victims. The story is orientated around the exploration of fear and the unearthing of a fictional history based on the facts in regards to the victims. So our attention is on the victim and not the Ripper himself. For the next films we are going to delve deeper into that world of Jack. We just didn’t want to tackle too much in one go.

Damian: What can you tell us about your Jack the Ripper mythos and how you have managed to transport the Victorian characters and events into a contemporary setting for the film?

Ian: In Razors a troubled young screenwriter, Ruth Walker, is one of six screenwriters taken to a unique Victorian location, a place with a history, by their enigmatic tutor Prof. Richard Wise. All must pitch the ultimate horror movie and Wise will chose one story that they will then develop together using the building for inspiration. But Ruth has the ultimate pitch in that she believes a box that she has inherited contains the knives used by Jack the Ripper, and she has been told never to open it. (Quite how she has obtained the box is explained later in the film). No one of course believes her but after the pitches, and as the competition between them hots up, the knives go missing and it seems that the spirit of the Ripper exists behind the walls of the building and is being slowly reborn. The screenwriters have been drawn to writing horror by nightmares they have had since childhood and a shared sense of doom.

At the risk of giving away too much of the plot, (some plot spoilers ahead) the screenwriters are haunted by the ghost of a little Victorian girl who seems to be drawing them towards a long hidden secret, and the film hints at a possible sixth, undiscovered Ripper murder that happened in a chamber hidden behind the walls. The Police interrupted it and although the Ripper escaped, managed to take his knives but not before the little girl hid one of them within the walls and trapping the spirit of the Ripper there. Thus to stop the Ripper once and for all, and to prevent his escape into the wider world, Ruth must find the missing knife and use it to destroy him. In doing so the screenwriters will discover the identity of the little girl and their own particular relevance to the Ripper’s story, which is the film’s big final twist.

Thus in Razors we set up a concept that can be developed further in later films. The knives are a kind of seal on the Ripper’s tomb and wherever they are now taken, the avenging spirit of the Ripper will follow.

Karl: Our Jack the Ripper could be anyone. He could be your brother or best friend. As we all know there are many theories about who Jack was but for us the importance was what he stood for. He is a symbol of fear that everyone all over the world can identify with. We do drag other characters contemporary to Jack’s time into the film (we get a cheeky glimpse of Abberline amongst others), but the idea is to mirror the events of that time and not to reproduce it. Fear of the unknown is the ultimate duality between the mythos of that time and of our society now. Imagine Jack as an ideology for terror… A terror threat. Something everyone fears yet cannot avoid. A hellish image of pain and suffering.

razor4Damian: We obviously don’t want to reveal too much but can we talk about Andrew Shire who plays Jack the Ripper and how you approached the writing and directing of such an enigmatic character?

Ian: I think we very consciously went for a different look for the Ripper and wanted to avoid the top hat and opera cloak approach. I took the Ripper tour and was struck by the idea that he could have been a workman from a slaughterhouse, who could have got blood on his clothes and entered a public house in the early hours of the morning without arousing undue attention. Karl has come up with a really cool story idea for the identity of the Ripper which we will explore in one of the sequels; it is a plausible and intriguing concept but not one that pretends to be based on historical fact or the existing list of suspects. As to Andrew, he is an extremely powerful actor who I had used in my previous film, Seeing Heaven. He looks very enigmatic and really gives it his all. He is a sinister presence in this film, and subsequent films will need to build more on his character, but he brings a pretty deranged approach to playing the Ripper which is a nice contrast to the usual black eyed enigmatic figure of evil in From Hell.

Karl: Andrew and myself worked a lot on making sure the approach to such an iconic character was fresh. We wanted the character to be familiar but certainly not the typical Jack the Ripper you see in comics or drawings scattered all over the place. I tried to keep Andrew as distanced from the other actors on set as possible; I wanted to alienate him as an actor from the others. As a character he doesn’t say much in the film so it was important to work on physicality and to keep Andrew focused on his motivation which I will not reveal. As you say, that would give too much away. The dialogue between Andrew and I on set was rather unsettling. We got a few funny looks from the rest of the cast and crew as they heard little glimpses of what I whispered to him. Thankfully Andrew was excited by this approach and went along with it. The result I feel is very animalistic and daring.

Damian: Were you tempted to watch the classic screen representations of Jack the Ripper such as Murder by Decree or the Michael Caine miniseries for example?

Ian: I have seen both, the Michael Caine series when it originally aired and Murder by Decree when it was shown back in the late 70’s or early 80’s on TV. So Murder by Decree is a strong memory from my youth. I think it is a superb film. I think I also dimly remember the Z cars detectives take on the Ripper case programme that started off the Royal theory thread. I would have liked to have referred more to particular elements of the Ripper murders and to have woven them more into our present day story. These elements were present in the original shooting script (e.g. the writing chalked on the wall that is wiped off by the chief of Police) but this evolved a little in shooting and now this first Razor’s film concentrates more fully around the story of the central character Ruth who has the knives and her five fellow script writers. To be honest a whole host of influences have gone into the film, including the idea of the little girl from Hands of the Ripper although in this film she is not the Ripper’s daughter, and we have used her character to design a new twist. There is also a nod with her to Mario Bava’s Kill Baby Kill and the idea of little Ghost girl’s in Peter Straub’s work…especially the Mia Farrow film Full Circle. There are also references to The Stone Tape with the building keeping an essence of past events.

Karl: I had seen clips when I was younger… I love Michael Caine. Anyway, for me the film is more of a psychological struggle of upbringing and fear so I researched a lot into real serial killers such as Ed Gein, Charles Manson and others. It’s always fun to see interpretations of a character through other films yet to create something a little fresher I felt that finding real case studies was more useful. I tend to get more influenced by music, sound and objects than anything else. For me that’s always a good starting point. To name a couple of tracks Justice Stress and the Nick Cave and Warren Ellis score for The Road.

razor1Damian: Again, avoiding spoilers, can you tell me more about Professor Richard Wise?

Ian: Professor Wise is a professor of screenwriting who takes five of his most gifted students to the old Victorian location at the centre of the film, for a kind of horror boot camp, to encourage them to explore their fears and write the ultimate horror story. But of course he may also have an ulterior motive. Wise believes in “bad places” that have existed throughout history and can exert an influence on the present.

Probably the biggest influence on Razors is the original Robert Wise film of The Haunting. Thus Professor Wise is a bit of a homage to the Richard Johnson character in that film. He is very much in the tradition of learned authority figures who takes a group of characters to a historically significant place with somewhat murky motives. He is a scholar and as the film progresses we might begin to wonder quite what it is he knows about the Ripper murders and the way that the five screenwriters, despite being modern characters, might fit in to them. The big twist of the film is that they are more intimately involved than you might think. Thomas Thoroe plays Wise with a nice enigmatic and icy edge. He is affable but also a little bit scary.

Karl: A sick, macabre, Faustian mess.

Damian: The aforementioned plot element featuring the idea of a group of writers competing to write the ultimate horror story reminds me of that dark and stormy night in 1816 when a group of friends including Shelley, Byron and Polidori challenged each other to a similar endeavour which resulted in the creation of Frankenstein. I was wondering if this was a deliberate homage?

Ian: That was a wonderful story, but I suppose here we have taken a bit more of a Scream approach as the characters are young screenwriters. The stories that the screenwriters pitch to each other, tell us a lot about their characters. So Zack the American pitches a Hostel type bloodbath, James the English geeky guy, something more intellectual, Sadie and Jane, an Elizabeth Bathory type vampire story that they have worked on together. I guess the similarity with the gothic story is that Ruth (like Mary Shelley) has a complicated Freudian back story that influences what she writes, a history of violence at the hands of her own father etc.

Karl: I wish I could say it was. Regardless, I love the comparison. Shelley’s gothic novel is a massive influence on me as a writer. Thank you.

Stills from the film 'Razors'Damian: Your production company, Magic Mask Pictures, specialises in visually striking and high concept fantasy/horror films, given that Razors has the aforementioned present-day setting, to what extend does the meticulously crafted lighting shot by the award-winning cinematographer, Alessio Valori, attempt to evoke Jack the Ripper’s Victorian East End of London?

Ian: In Seeing Heaven my last film, Alessio went for a very intense use of primary colours as a homage to the great Italian fantasy director Mario Bava. In this film the use of colour is more restrained but Alessio wanted to stick to a discipline of largely lighting the scenes with candles and the characters’ torches, augmented with relatively few film lights and neons. The textures of the walls and other elements of the junk filled building give it a special ambience and we didn’t have to do much to create an oppressive atmosphere. Ironically, the actual location we used is full of secret rooms filled with collections of objects and in fact, it also houses a scrap metal yard which the police have used to destroy knives and other weapons, thus the plotline around the knives has a small echo in the building’s real history. I would also mention that we were very lucky to have David Blight designing our costumes and he has worked on a large number of TV costume productions. So in the few instances when we skip back to Victorian times, the costumes look authentic.

Karl: We used a lot of natural light from candles in the film. This meant we could move around the locations quickly and get more shooting material logistically, but it also mirrored the lighting states that would have been seen at the time. Alessio is an incredibly passionate cinematographer and the proof of his expertise is in the shots themselves. For the time we shot it in and the budget, Alessio has really produced imagery that surpasses what was expected. When Ian and I started to look through what we had captured we couldn’t wait to hit the editing suite.

Damian: You’re a great admirer of the directors Dario Argento and George A. Romero, do you think the work of these two icons of the horror genre have influenced your films or the visual style of Razors?

Ian: I love the politics and social themes of Romero’s movies and I am a big fan of the ingenuity of Argento’s early movies. However I am a bigger fan of Mario Bava, with his ability to create a sense of pure dream states in his films and to use colour to signify passion and emotion. We are currently working in the edit in the dream montages, and if we can get the audience to lose themselves within them, we will have achieved something. I am also a big fan of practical effects and atmosphere rather than CGI and Alessio Valori our cinematographer is very skilled in this regard. So even before colour grading, the film has a distinctive look that is all achieved in the camera and through skilful lighting.

Damian: You’ve recently completed principal photography and are currently in post-production, when can we expect Razors to be released?

Karl: This year. It’s a lengthy process but we are working closely with editor Euan Donaldson to create a film that is exciting for an audience to watch. The film is shaping and moving in ways we never anticipated before. It’s scary and exciting, but ultimately cannot be rushed. There are moments when things slot into place and I feel genuinely anxious about what is going to happen in a scene I’ve seen numerous times. I hope that the auditorium will be inquisitive and a bundle of nerves. But to be honest, I am not sure if I could sit in there with them!

Ian: I would also just like to add that the film has another East End connection in that we worked closely with students from the SAE institute in Haggerston, who got their first feature film credit, working with us on the film. We are hopping when the film has finished that it will have an East End cinema premiere.

Damian: As you’ve already mentioned, Razors is only the first chapter in an ongoing series of films. What is your overall vision for the franchise?

Ian: We just want to create and intelligent and different horror franchise that goes beyond the usual teenagers in peril formula. The Ripper’s knives will get stolen in one of the sequels by an unscrupulous art dealer and will turn up in America, where of course it is thought by some that the Ripper actually escaped to after the five core murders, with additional murders happening there. We also plan a slightly post-modern detour in one of the sequels, with the writer of the original film, haunted by the ghosts of the Ripper victims, who implore him to find out the Ripper’s true identity, as they never actually saw his face. (As a Shoreditch resident when I walk around Brick Lane I am very conscious of the actual locations of the murders).

Karl: We will delve deeper into the mythos and explore darker corners of its world. We have a few tricks up our sleeve both period and surrealist – you’ll just have to wait and see!

Damian: Ian and Karl, thank you very much indeed.


Visit the official Razors website: http://www.razorsthemovie.com/
Thanks to Sue Foll for her photography.
“Razors” content and images are copyright of Magic Mask Pictures

Ripper Street interview with Toby Finlay

NOTE: This interview contains spoilers that are best avoided until you have seen the first three episodes of Ripper Street Series III

This is how Grandmother will tell the story, a hundred years hence:

Exposed unto the sea, which hath requit it,
Him and his innocent child; for which foul deed
The powers, delaying, not forgetting, have
Incensed the seas and shores, yea, all the creatures…

The Tempest – III.3

Talking Cure & Chimney Sweeping

An exclusive Ripper Street interview with Toby Finlay

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2015
Images copyright © Toby Finlay/Will Gould
Toby Finlay and Richard Warlow

Toby Finlay and Richard Warlow

Damian: Toby, you have written the following episodes of Ripper Street: The Weight of One Man’s Heart (Series 1. Episode 5), Tournament of Shadows (1.6), Threads of Silk and Gold (2.5), A Stronger Loving World (2.6), The Beating of Her Wings (3.2) and Ashes and Diamonds (3.3) not to mention your collaboration in devising the overarching story. You are therefore, the most prolific of cuckoos in Richard Warlow’s nest. How so?

Toby: Well, I suppose you’d have to ask Richard that question. We knew each other from before Ripper Street was even a twinkle and we’d got along and had a mutual respect, but it was during Ripper that we found our writing was simpatico in a lot of ways and intriguingly different in others. I think we pushed each other a bit over the three seasons, and it’s always good to be working with someone you want to beat.

Damian: To what extent was the aforementioned overarching story and individual plots for series three planned prior to the news of Ripper Street’s cancellation last December?

Toby: Back in September 2013 – before the cancellation – Richard and I (along with Joe Donaldson our superb script-editor and Will Gould, the exec producer and godfather of the show) went off to a hotel in the countryside for a few days and started throwing ideas around. What we storylined were the big beats of the first four episodes. We had the bones of the stories to a greater extent in some episodes than others. (For instance ep 3 with the clairvoyant was just something we kept bandying around as a joke about a dead clairvoyant who didn’t see it coming, and it was very much later that I realised there was actually a story in there, so I kept the line as a little in-joke). And then, as we were all set to work deeper on the stories and Richard and I were primed to commence eps 1 and 2 – the show was axed. So everything was on ice. It was only in February or so of this year that we got the green light again and suddenly realised we had to work out those stories and indeed the rest of the series.

But the shorter answer is, we knew we wanted the train crash – that was something Richard had harboured for a while, I think – and to bring back Mathilda. And to make this overarching story Reid versus Susan, really put them both through the ringer. We certainly wanted to make Susan at the fore of this narrative and give her a sort of Breaking Bad journey into darkness. So the core of series 3 was definitely planned prior to the axe, even though the individual stories were very much in gestation and much of the work came after Amazon saved us.


Richard Cookson, Will Gould, Richard Warlow and Toby Finlay

Damian: I find it difficult to believe that series three would have begun four years later in 1894 if the show hadn’t have been cancelled at the end of its second series. There must have been sacrifices made in terms of story and certain characters?

Toby: Actually the time jump was always the plan. I’m not sure we’d settled in 1894 specifically but there was definitely the intention of leaving a few years for the characters to have developed or sunk or fallen apart in the intervening time. Luckily, everyone who we wanted to bring back was willing to come back. The end of series 2 was such a cliffhanger that it felt unexpected to drive forward in time like that. And if it’s unexpected, it’s interesting.

Damian: And were there any creative conditions imposed by Amazon?

Toby: None. In fact they were keen to exploit the lack of scheduling or watershed restrictions, which is why the Amazon versions are longer and in some cases more explicit in language and image than the versions which will eventually screen on the BBC. The Amazon versions are, if you will, more like the “writers’ cuts”.

Damian: Before we turn our attention to your two episodes for series three, I wanted to follow up on an issue that troubled me from our previous interview when I asked you to what extent the views of Faulkner (the antagonist from The Weight of One Man’s Heart) might reflect your own personal political ideology and you respectfully declined to answer. While I respect your decision to keep your politics to yourself, I was disappointed that you went on to say that your own personal views as a writer are not important. Would an interview, for example, with Stanley Kubrick regarding Dr. Strangelove or A Clockwork Orange not be enhanced by a discussion of his political ideology or perhaps a discourse on the protest genre and radicalism with Bob Dylan?

Toby: Kubrick and Dylan were/are notoriously tricky interview-f*****s who would refuse point blank to be pinned down. I’m sure an interview with Dylan about the protest genre and radicalism would be thrilling, but you won’t find one. You’ll find him telling you to keep a good head and always carry a light-bulb.

I stand by what I said last time, which is that I write partly to play with ideas and weave masks… but you can assume generally that I wouldn’t put fire behind the writing of it unless on some level I believed in it. Beyond that: read the tale, not the teller.

fink5Damian: And from politics, we naturally move on to religion. A wise man once wrote that a man without faith is a man without hope. For comedic effect or otherwise, you have sometimes portrayed yourself as a “Bad Jew”, do you entertain any particular religion or spirituality?

Toby: I believe in Larry David.

Damian: There is actually a valid reason that I ask you this but rather than repeat previously documented material, I would direct the reader to our original interview with reference to your visual fetish with birds. However, I would like to explore the possible psychology behind such riffs pertaining to winged creatures in more depth and point out that in The Beating of Her Wings alone, the following are referenced either visually on screen, spoken through dialogue or described in possible wordplay or puns through action notes: cockerel, capon, rookery, vultures, swallow, lark, pupa, butterflies, fairies as well as a parrot outside the exotic bird shop adjoining H Buckley: Antiquities & Curiosities and also mention of da Vinci (famed for his human-powered ornithopter designs and possibly the first European interested in a practical solution to flight).

So, back to the original question of spirituality which can manifest itself in a variety of different ways from organised religion to the more personal such as private prayer or reflection, meditation or yoga. Given that our brain processes sensory experiences, it is inevitable that we will look for patterns and pursue their meaning. To what extent would you give credence to the following interpretations?: the pre-totemistic soul-belief of the Semang and other tribes believed the bird was one of the earliest of spirit animals which had to be killed so as to release the soul, the Holy Egyptian bird was a symbol of resurrection, transformation and immortality, mediating between the earthly realm and the heavenly world – perhaps the human soul undergoing spiritual development, the soul’s desire for transcendence or desire to escape (freeing a bird from captivity as was the case in The Weight of One Man’s Heart relating to the release of one’s own emotions or primal energies) and for Freud, birds were obviously carnal symbols representing the penis…

Toby: They’re penises. All of them.

I have no problem with any interpretation. I am apparently drawn to birds for some reason, as we discussed in the last interview. The imagery and… I suppose the word is “symbolism”… speak to me. But I couldn’t tell you what they say exactly. I try to feel the pulse of whatever I’m writing and sometimes if I feed it with interesting things it will throw back interesting things in return. I remember reading an interview with Paul Auster a long time ago about his brilliant novel Moon Palace, when he was asked a similar question about the imagery and language of the moon, which is everywhere in the book. And he said, basically, that some of it is deliberate and some of it happily accidental – but borne of the fact that you’ve harboured these ideas and notions for a long time, and so certain elements of language and image will just find their way to forming connections and spilling out onto the page.

Damian: Was the appearance of the aforementioned parrot a visual allusion to the historical Edmund Reid and his eccentric future in Hampton-on-Sea?

Toby: Yes.

Damian: You’ve told me in the past that character is the key thing for you as a writer and if it came down to choosing between compromising the integrity of a character’s story or bending history, you would always choose to sacrifice the history. Obviously Ripper Street is not a documentary, however, I thought it was clever of Richard to incorporate the history of Joseph Merrick and the timeline of his death (2.1: Pure as the Driven and 2.2: Am I Not Monstrous?) into the events of series two without deviating too far from the known facts and remaining true to the man, the character’s psychology and motivations. In complete contrast to this however, and I speak with specific reference to Reid’s actions towards the end of series two and the shocking climax of The Beating of Her Wings, is there not a moral argument to be made against possibly changing the perception and reputation of real characters from history?

Toby: That’s an interesting point, and I think there absolutely is a moral issue. In fact I have a general rule that I won’t do biopics or true stories because I feel very uncomfortable about the dramatic liberties that are invariably required. I mean, I’ve seen some great biopics or factual dramas. But I have a problem with approaching that kind of material myself.

However, the Reid of Ripper is very much a fictional construct who happens to share a name with the Reid of history. I have deliberately never even read a biography of the real Reid, which is perhaps how I handled the issue I just mentioned. So in other words I just hid my head in the sand for my own moral convenience.

fink3Damian: So Richard and yourself have never been creatively constricted by the destiny and historical events of characters such as Reid and Fred Abberline in terms of telling your story?

Toby: No. At least I never felt constricted. I realise what I’m saying seems to run directly counter to what I said to your previous question. But I never claimed to be anything more than a confused mess of contradictions.

Damian: There are several omitted scenes from The Beating of Her Wings, which is often the case with writing for films and television where there is always a pressure to adhere to certain running times. The first cut of some episodes (such as your A Stronger Loving World) can be as long as eighty minutes which then have to be whittled down to sixty for the final cut. I’m particularly curious about scene seventy (from TBOHW) but can you also give us a flavour of what we will unfortunately never see from your two episodes for series three?

Toby: No. It doesn’t matter. I’m not sure what scene 70 was and I don’t want to return to the script now. It’s made, it’s done, it’s gone. It was probably something transcendentally awesome but I don’t want to look back. We shark onward, to meet the next black wave with teeth bared.

Damian: The themes and motifs of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, including power and control, betrayal, revenge and forgiveness, not to mention Ariel, a spirit of the air!, were well-suited to The Beating of Her Wings (as was the case with Antony and Cleopatra and The Weight of One Man’s Heart) and beautifully interwoven throughout your script. It strikes me as an inspired and profound analogy and yet there is almost an element of inevitability surrounding its use as though it had been part of a shared vision from the very beginning.  At what point in the genesis of this episode did it become apparent that there was such a close connection to water and sea creating disaster in the lives of the main characters in both The Tempest and Ripper Street?

Toby: The story of Reid and his catastrophe on the boat with Mathilda – and therefore the notion of water as nightmarish – obviously goes back to the beginning of the show, but the Tempest parallels and motifs came about only as I was writing The Beating of Her Wings. I’m not sure exactly at what point it occurred to me, but all of that was very deliberate. I suppose it was similar to the process of The Weight of One Man’s Heart in that there was a stage during the composition where I realised I was riffing on certain things – in this case water and fairies – and I wanted to throw The Tempest in. I do these things largely for myself because… I don’t know. I suppose it keeps it interesting for me to make these connections.

Damian: In addition to The Tempest, we can’t ignore other possible references although I’m not sure to what extent they are all intentional or not. There is a certain young lady named Alice who is introduced in The Beating of Her Wings who previously went by the name Mathilda which just so happens to be the same nickname of one of Alice Liddell’s sisters (Tillie, short for Matilda was Edith Liddell’s actual nickname).

There is also the matter of the caterpillar but in your second episode, Ashes and Diamonds, you also have Alice say to Long Susan Hart, “You’re the Queen around here” (thus Hart becomes the Queen of Hearts). Additionally we have various riffs on mirrors and their reflections (perhaps for the benefit of those in the cheap seats Alice also remarks, “So many looking glasses”) referencing Carroll’s second Alice story, Through the Looking Glass, which features a chessboard and is indeed structured like a game of chess in terms of its narrative – you also make copious allusions to Kings, Queens and pawns throughout both of your episodes. Furthermore, and if that were not enough, it would be remiss of me not to remind the reader that Lewis Carroll has since become a Jack the Ripper suspect – albeit an extremely unlikely one. Curious to say in the least or are some of these observations the ramblings of a pretentious madman?

Toby: No. All of that was deliberate layering and weaving. But it’s also Moon Palace syndrome again. Some things happen unconsciously and then you realise it and follow those new threads down… well, down the rabbit-hole I suppose. But as with the Tempest references, this sort of game-playing is a thing I do, for myself and for whoever might wish to grab the strands.

fink1Damian: There are also at least two references to King Arthur (in Ashes and Diamonds) but I particularly wanted to ask you about “the Wicked King” (The Beating of Her Wings) which Alice is so afraid of. I did a little digging and found the Romanic folktale entitled The Wicked King: Tales from the Lands of Nuts and Grapes (published in 1888 – such a memorable year!) and also The Tale of the Wicked King: A Story from the Field of Blackbirds (1915) which contains the following extract: “So he (the Wicked King) kept on, as long as the horse would go, even farther into the snow-covered wilderness of the mountain, until he was lost to human sight.” For me, this certainly resonates within the context of TBOHW but what is their significance to you?

Toby: I’m delighted those books exist but I didn’t know of them. What I did know about was the general obsession with fairies and fairytales which pervaded parts of Victorian culture and I wanted to engage with it. The Wicked King was something that sounded right to me, but as far as I knew it was something I’d conjured. If it was provoked by anything it was probably – though I’ve only just thought about it – the Yellow King in True Detective.

Damian: Why do you insist on having characters speak the episode titles, either word for word or phrased slightly differently, through their dialogue?

Toby: Actually this is a Warlow tic. I think he got it from Deadwood. It was something that I was not only always indifferent to but in fact ended up sailing against twice. There are only two episodes, as far as I know, where the title is not spoken verbatim – and they’re both mine. One is A Stronger Loving World, which is ALMOST but not quite spoken. The other is Ashes and Diamonds, where the title is not actually spoken but is engraved on the silver pocket watch which Olivia once gifted her husband and shows Drake. You can just about make it out if you freeze frame the close up of the watch.

Damian: Series three is rattling along at a staggering pace and many plot strands from the previous two years are being resolved surprisingly quickly. Is there a sense that both you and Richard are bidding farewell to Whitechapel?

Toby: Well. I can’t speak for Richard. And his connection to this show is longer and deeper than mine. But for my own part… Yes, I think that melancholic, valedictory tone in Ashes and Diamonds was not accidental.

fink3Damian: Again, I would direct the reader to our previous interview [see link below], but I’m pleased to see your fascination with the Western endures (mainly through the character of Captain Homer Jackson) and there are references to the genre in Ashes and Diamonds. Also, as I’ve told you before, I particularly enjoy your affinity with the character and in A Stronger Loving World, Jackson says to Reid, “This entire day can kiss my holiest of holies… First, I’m gonna drink this. Then I’m gonna throw up. And then, (reaching for another bottle) I’m gonna drink this. And then I’m gonna pass out. Now, you wanna make use of my brain, do it now.”

This is pure Toby Finlay – won’t you miss writing for Jackson?

Toby: F*****g right I will. I’ll miss a great deal about writing for Ripper. Not only the key characters, but writing for those actors is a privilege I don’t know if I’ll experience again. I mean, I hope I’ll work with Matthew, Jerome, Myanna, Charlene and Rothenberg again – but probably not all together.

Amid all of that, though, the character who comes most naturally to me with his self-loathing and rage and bottomless romantic yearning is Jackson, and I have never before experienced a professional pleasure that comes close to writing that stuff and seeing Rothenberg nail it like the drawling dirt-bag he is.

fink5Damian: Given our references to pupa and the butterfly, might your decision not to work on Ripper Street again mark something of a chrysalis and the transformation of your own career as a writer?

Toby: I don’t know. I just feel like it’s time to do other things. I’d never written television before Ripper, and now I’m going back to writing film for a while and I feel like I’m having to learn to write film all over again.… So… I don’t know. The uncertainty and terror is useful, an electric shock out of complacency.

fink1Damian: Of all the episodes that you’ve written, what do you consider to be your greatest contribution to Ripper Street?

Toby: In terms of contribution, you’d need to ask Warlow. It’s his show. But since you’re asking me…

I think The Weight of One Man’s Heart was a significant episode for Ripper in that it was the first ep in which the crime story intertwined deeply with an intense personal drama for one of our main characters; and a lot of Drake’s backstory and his own dark myth came into being through the composition of that episode. I think that ep made both Warlow and I take a slightly shifted angle on the show as a whole.

Damian: And so we come to end of our final Ripper Street interview. Toby, on behalf of the birds, butterflies and indeed all the winged creatures, I wanted to say that Whitechapel will be a less interesting place without you in it. I admire your talent and I appreciate your inspiration. So long cowboy.

Toby: Keep a good head, friend. And always carry a lightbulb.


“O brave new world, That has such people in’t!”


My first interview with Toby can be found below:


All interviews and articles on this website are copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2015




Ripper Street Interview with MyAnna Buring

Hard Medicine and Bad Money

An exclusive Ripper Street interview with MyAnna Buring

Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2015

Damian: At the conclusion of our previous interview for series two of Ripper Street, we briefly mentioned the stage production of Strangers on a Train produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson which you’d just begun rehearsing. What was it like to work with the custodians of the James Bond franchise?

MyAnna: Great fun. Barbara was very hands on and has a work ethic, generosity, and positivity that is simply extraordinary. I know that might sound over the top but she is a very impressive human being and great to work with. Having met them it is not surprising that her and Michael have managed to keep the legend of Bond flourishing all this time.

Damian: While we’re on the subject of trains… No, I’m only joking – it’s more than my life is worth to reveal too much for those who haven’t seen it yet. However, I’m reminded of our discussion about the series two opener last year when you said that “the episode should bring Ripper Street crashing back into people’s living rooms”. Do you think Whitechapel Terminus, the first episode of series three tops this?

MyAnna: I think it does. I must have some sixth sense to have phrased it so last year – or maybe my phrasing last year planted some seeds, subliminally, in the writers minds? Or not… In any case, the show is definitely coming crashing back into living rooms once again.

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: Previous press releases have promised that we will see you returning in more of a “starring role” this time. Was this something that you personally championed for or is it simply the natural evolution of Long Susan’s character given the story and plot lines for series three?

MyAnna: No – you can’t champion for such things… if the story doesn’t have a place for you then it doesn’t. You can’t force it to, and it is not my place to force writers to write for me if they don’t feel it’s right – I would never even attempt such a ludicrous thing! Having said that, I have always felt that Rose, Susan, and Cobden were integral characters in the show, so it makes sense that we continue to be so… Richard Warlow and the producers had always had an idea that this is where Susan would end up in her character arc – a kind of Godfather of Whitechapel is how they put it to me – and as Richard, Toby [Finlay], and Will [Gould – executive producer] mapped out this season they felt it was right to go there and I am very glad and grateful they did, as she, as always, was such fun to play.

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: Series creator/lead writer, Richard Warlow, and Toby Finlay, who has written more episodes than any of the other contributing writers have provided Susan with many outstanding dramatic scenes and dialogue over the past three years but I’m wondering who knows your character best. Do you ever give Richard or Toby notes on their scripts with reference to Long Susan Hart?

MyAnna: Toby and Richard both get Long Susan and as they’ve gotten to know me I have definitely found Susan using language that I myself use – for example, words such as ‘delicious’ crept into Susan’s vocabulary this year which is a very me thing to say… Also I think they know all of us actors so well now – not only personally, but also what we can do as actors – and they seem to have written very much with that knowledge in mind – this season in particular I’ve noticed that… I’ve never given them notes, although we’ve had chats about where we feel Susan is emotionally – just to confirm that we are on the same page.

Damian: You’ll undoubtedly remember some negative comments regarding the portrayal of women when the first episode of Ripper Street was broadcast back in 2012 and before such hasty commentators had even given the show, or indeed, its female characters a chance to evolve. So, it’s with a certain degree of amusement to observe that Susan, in addition to exhibiting enormous strength and determination herself, has chosen to align herself with some incredibly powerful women such as Jane Cobden (Leanne Best returning in her role from series two) who was the first woman to be elected to the London County Council and helped shape the women’s suffragette movement, and also Dr. Amelia Frayn (a new character played by Sherlock’s Louise Brealey) partially inspired by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Whitechapel-born political campaigner and the first Englishwoman to qualify as a doctor. “Obsidian” was introduced at the end of the last series, can you tell us a little bit about how this has now transformed into a clinic and Susan’s relationship with Jane and Amelia?

MyAnna: Yes even as a feminist – I struggled a little with the misogynistic comments… It is absolutely important in our industry that we keep an eye out for the messages we put across in our story-telling: we do still live in a society where there is inequality and in a culture where casual sexism, racism, prejudice does not help to address this inequality… we need to insist on change.

It is to be celebrated that we can voice our concerns, and as valid and right as that sometimes is, I would argue that at other times this right allows us to make bold statements about whether or not something is or isn’t misogynistic based on a crumb of evidence: one scene, one image… a little more attention may reveal the context in which the scene is shot and may flip our initial knee jerk reactions to it.

RipperStreet is at its core, structurally, a procedural cop drama set in the streets of Whitechapel – streets still reeling from the violent aftermath of Jack the Ripper’s horrific murders of local prostitutes. At its helm is a male police officer flanked by two “helpers” – one brains and one brawn – (there were no female police officers at the time, and even though the show takes liberties with the truth – there are certain constraints by which it abides in order to make the “world” of the show believable).

This is the core structure of Ripper Street and it is the streets of Victorian Whitechapel – this dirty, poor, socially unjust back drop against which all the Ripper Street characters wrestle out their lives… it is against this back drop that the characters question and challenge, and try to fight the misogyny, the corruption, the social and moral bankruptcy – without the images of inequality all around them the show could not make a case for the importance to fight it… the characters are not necessarily any of those things themselves – Reid, Drake, and Jackson are all supporters for the most part of the women in their lives, I feel they are quite evolved in this respect, and the women they are surrounded by are to a large extent written as fully fleshed out humans like the men are as opposed to simply caricatures – if they are victims of their circumstance then I would argue that all the characters in Ripper Street – male and female are fighting those very circumstances.

The nature of a TV show means that some characters develop quicker than others in order to drive the story telling – which is perhaps why some of the female characters may have felt less developed to begin with… It takes time to get to know some people, the same goes for characters… We always knew Susan was at odds with the limitations her society placed on her sex and that she would always be drawn to people and situations who challenged them, the writers had discussed this at length and that was why I was drawn to the project in the first place three years ago… The inclusion of the characters of Cobden, and Frayn was not, I believe, a response to the critics of the first episode, but the natural evolutionary result of a story based in this particular place and this particular time with these particular characters.

So, like I said, Susan always struggled with the injustice of the world she was born into and for her, especially towards the end of the last season, she becomes clear in her conviction that to swing the pendulum of power to favour a woman she needs money and a financial hold over people. She tells the dying Duggan that she will amass his wealth, make it her own, and with it take his place as the most powerful person in Whitechapel.

Cut to season three, four years later she has done just that… however, her dream is to use this power to build a better Whitechapel for its people…She builds a clinic – Obsidian clinic – and brings in a female doctor to run it, and is in the process of building affordable housing for which she has received governmental support in the shape of Jane Cobden. Two women who, like her, are challenging the perceptions of what women can do – however, in the case of the first she is doing it, not through business, but through her education and medicine, and in the case of the last through the means of politics: political campaigning, engaging with and drumming up the support of the disenfranchised people she represents… all equally impressive means to achieve the same end…

Damian: In previous interviews with female Ripper Street cast members, I’ve discussed the Gilbert and Gubar feminist theory concerning how women during the Victorian period were portrayed in fiction as either “angel” or “monster”. To be absolutely clear on this, I have always defended the women of Whitechapel as depicted in the show as incredibly complex and multifaceted but I found Susan’s actions in series three, with particular reference to end of the second episode, The Beating of Her Wings (by Toby Finlay) to be unforgivable and, indeed, truly monstrous. Does the end always justify the means and, on a moralistic level, has Susan passed the point of no return?

MyAnna: It is an incredibly monstrous act she commits… I would argue it is no more or less monstrous because she happens to be a woman – wouldn’t you agree?

Damian: I dare not do otherwise!

MyAnna: It is written – as are so many of Rippers’ scenes – precisely so, in order that we question whether the end justifies the means – that is one of the over riding themes of Ripper – we keep coming back to it… There is a wealth of source material in the world to draw from; look around us at the acts committed everyday in the world – that we, our communities, politicians and bankers justify… what is justifiable? Ripper does beg the question, however, from whose perspective are you shown the series of events? And how does this influence our judgement of them? Susan is driven, due to the world she has suffered in and for, by a vision of a greater, safer, fairer world – an altruistic vision – which without her to ensure it’s manifestation will simply never materialise – not in the way she sees it.

She feels incredibly strongly that she needs to protect this vision. Also, she has been presented with information that makes her question the behaviour of Inspector Reid – and until she is certain his actions were innocent she will definitely NOT risk losing all she has strived so very hard for to protect him – but it’s not as if it doesn’t cost her…

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: Although I fully empathise with Susan’s history, ambition and protective loyalty towards her friends such as Rose Erskine, why can’t she forgive Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) despite his copious collection of flaws and certain peculiarities of temperament?

MyAnna: Come ON?!?! The love of her life, her husband – the only man she has ever truly loved – has due to his idiocy, gambling, and inability to take clear action (that doesn’t involve running away), forced her to essentially sell her body to the filthiest, most corrupt and vile human being in all of Whitechapel. I’m sure if you had that dirty corruption hammering away over you and into your body, taking physical and financial ownership of you, stripping you of your precious independence, turning the only small place of safety you had in the world to ruin, you would feel pretty resentful of the person who you feel helped make it happen… or perhaps you are more forgiving than Susan? Or perhaps Jackson’s sweet charms would mean you wouldn’t mind taking one for the team for him?

Damian: *Clears throat*

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

MyAnna: Having said all this there is and always will be an inexplicable bond between these two characters – that unquantifiable and mysterious connection, gravitational pull some people just have between them… so the question lingers will that ultimately pull them together despite the deep hurt between them? Or have the actions of the past cut scars too deep and wide to overcome?

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: It seems to me that almost all of Jackson’s actions leading up to the shocking climax of series two were made because of his love for you. There were some truly heartbreaking scenes between the two of you as evidenced in the following excerpts of dialogue between the two characters from the last year’s grand finale, Our Betrayal (by Richard Warlow):

SUSAN: A moment comes in a woman’s life when she may no longer deal in dreams. This? This is fantasy… or is it death? – and it might well be both. No. Captain Homer Jackson. Matthew Judge. Husband. No. I will have no more of you and your dreams. The world is what it is. And I must live with that.
JACKSON: Look, whatever it takes darling, till my blood be spilt, I will find what it takes to make you smile again. Only allow it. Allow me the opportunity, this opportunity.

Without any more pain to feel, has Long Susan Hart become the heartless or might she smile again?

MyAnna: I don’t think anyone ever becomes heartless, but the protective wall Susan has built around her heart, is thick and tall… She cannot allow herself to feel too deeply, because to do so is too painful…she wrestles with this, but, ultimately, the best she can hope for is to help those in need and less fortunate than herself, to create some kind of monument to make her existence worthwhile, and to protect herself, make herself infallible to all the people who threaten her independence, her dignity, and to the man who took her heart and smashed it to smithereens…

© Tiger Aspect

© Tiger Aspect

Damian: For me personally, and I’ve told you this before, one of the many pleasures of the show is watching the relationship between Susan and Rose, played so wonderfully by the voice of gaiety herself, Charlene McKenna. I remember thinking that one of the tragedies of cancelling Ripper Street, and I genuinely mean this, was the thought of your two characters not sharing the screen again. Did you and Charlene keep in touch during the show’s hiatus?

MyAnna: We are all aware of your soft spot for dear Rose and Charlene – we all share it with you and join the queue! She is simply joyful. Rose is one of Susan’s few close friends and luckily for me Charlene is one of mine. We all keep in touch – it is a very close show…

Damian: Charlene painted a wonderful portrait of the relationship you both share when she told me that the two of you “snot, sing and laugh all over each other”…

MyAnna: Yup – pretty much sums it up!

Damian: MyAnna, it is always a great pleasure and a privilege to do these interviews – thank you very much indeed.

MyAnna: Thank you.


Damian Michael Barcroft



All interviews and articles on this website are copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2015

FROM HELL TO RIPPER STREET: An interview with Mark Dexter

In an exclusive interview originally published in The Journal of the Whitechapel Society, writer and historian Damian Michael Barcroft talks to the prolific actor Mark Dexter about JACK THE RIPPER, his work on FROM HELL and RIPPER STREET – plus, his passion for ‘craft beer’!


DAMIAN: First of all Mark, thank you so much for agreeing to share your experiences of Ripper Street with our readers. Before we discuss that however, I’d like to talk a little about some other items of interest on your increasingly impressive and diverse CV. You were part of two acclaimed productions of Tennessee Williams plays, the Olivier Award winning production of The Glass Menagerie and the Tony award winning production of Not About Nightingales. Can you tell us what it was like working with such distinguished and high-profile directors such as Sam Mendes and Trevor Nunn?

MARK: It’s actually funny hearing you refer to them as distinguished and high-profile because even though they both absolutely are those things – they are also two of the most down to earth and personable directors I’ve worked with. I find that’s very often the case with people who’ve reached the highest levels of success, and I’m convinced it’s no coincidence. Trevor has since become the director I’ve worked with more than any other, which says something about how enjoyable and rewarding he makes the process. Of course, a little bit of genius also helps, and they both have that too.

Mark Dexter as Dad in 'Doctor Who'

Mark Dexter as Dad in ‘Doctor Who’

DAMIAN: As I’ve already intimated, you are a prolific actor on our screens and although I couldn’t possibly mention all of them I did want to highlight and remind our readers of some of the shows in which you’ve appeared. There have been regular parts as Paul Stokes in Coronation Street and as Matt Hinckley in The Bill, appeared in two episodes of Doctor Who (Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead) and other more recent credits include The Bletchley Circle, Father Brown and Red Dwarf. However, I think many of our readers will remember you from another Ripper-related production, From Hell, in which you played Queen Victoria‘s grandson, Prince Edward Albert Victor. What was it like to work on such a big-budget Hollywood movie with Johnny Depp?

Screenshots 'From Hell'

Screenshots ‘From Hell’

Mark: Well, Johnny Depp is another example of someone operating at the highest level who couldn’t be nicer if he tried. It’s a bit of a long story, but I’d been given a private message to pass on to him from Judi Dench (they’d recently worked together on Chocolat) and I was a bit apprehensive about picking my moment to do it. As it turned out, Johnny beat me to it by speaking to me first which made it a lot easier. He went out of his way to make sure everyone on the set was at ease and that gives you a good idea of what he’s like. So my first experience of a Hollywood movie turned out to be a surprisingly comfy one. The Hughes brothers, who share directorial duties on all their films, also go the extra mile to create happy sets – they were hilarious.

DAMIAN: I’ve read that there were various drafts of the script and alterations were made long after principal photography had finished, was your character affected by any of the script revisions or reshoots?

MARK: I was very much affected. I was brought back to shoot an extra sequence eleven months after I’d originally finished work on it. My moustache, which had once been real, had to be fully recreated by specialist wig makers and my hair was way too short as I’d been filming something else at that time. I think Prague had been switched for a studio in London, and I remember feeling like I’d forgotten how to play the part. As it turned out, they never even used that newly shot sequence. There really were some definite differences of opinion about the final cut of From HellI  don’t really know how much I should say, but the DVD director’s commentary for that film gives a strong sense of how tough things got.


DAMIAN: Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell‘s   From Hell on which the film is based, is one of the most critically acclaimed graphic novels ever published but it is extremely hard going, did you ever get a chance to read it?

MARK: A director friend of mine, Julian Kemp, had a copy and loaned it to me when he heard I’d landed a part in it. I actually don’t remember finding it hard going – in fact I couldn’t put the damn thing down – but it’s unquestionably challenging and profound, and it can seem quite esoteric and out of reach in places, but for me those elements of darkness, magic and mystery are all part of the ride. I was totally absorbed by the haunting style and it still ranks as one of my favourite reads. Alan Moore has ‘Godlike’ status in my mind. Come to think of it, I don’t actually remember giving that copy back. Sorry Julian!

DAMIAN: There’s a scene in the film in which Johnny Depp (Inspector Abberline) and Heather Graham (Mary Jane Kelly) view a fantastic portrait of you as the prince and it occurred to me what a great conversation piece the picture would make hung above the fireplace in your living room or perhaps even hidden away like Dorian Gray – you must have wanted to keep the portrait for yourself?

MARK: I might as well admit that yes, of course I wanted it! Sadly, the artist who painted it also had the same desire. Between you and me, I still intend to get my hands on it one day!

Prince Albert Victor

Prince Edward Albert Victor

Do you have theories or opinions as to who Jack the Ripper might have been? For example, your character, Prince Edward Albert Victor was a suspect or perhaps Sir William Gull as depicted in the film?

MARK: Getting involved with Ripper Street reminded me about all the research I did for From Hell. There are so many compelling theories and I ended up with no firm favourite. I do happen to think the the royal theory is a red herring, exactly as it is in From Hell. (Oops, late spoiler alert!) Can you imagine if those killings were happening today, the sheer number of crazy ideas that would be whizzing around! You’d have people calling it a ‘false flag’ operation by the police in order to justify budget increases!

DAMIAN: While we’re on the subject of period dramas, there seems to be a pattern here: in addition to From Hell, and Ripper Street, you’ve also appeared in the Channel 4 series, The Queen as another royal character (this time as Prince Philip no less!) and also ITV’s Mr Selfridge as Ernest Shackleton. Apart from your classical good looks of course! – what is it about you that casting directors find so irresistible when asking you to play such aristocratic characters in period dramas?

MARK: Ha! You’d be better off asking the folks who dish out the work! I’ve heard a few theories about me having ‘period bones’ which is pretty disturbing on certain levels, but I’m sure there’s an element of people seeing what I’ve already done and feeling I must me okay at that sort of thing. I try not to over-analyse about castings because the truth is you could never find a definitive answer. I once had the pleasure of witnessing a director and a producer arguing with each other about why they’d given me the job!

Mark Dexter and Charlene McKenna on the set of 'Ripper Street'

Mark Dexter and Charlene McKenna on the set of ‘Ripper Street’

DAMIAN: So Ripper Street, allow me to congratulate you on being part of such an exciting and successful production. I recently wrote in my review of the first episode for The Whitechapel Society Journal that I believe the series to be “the most significant reinvention of Victorian iconography since the BBC’s Sherlock“. The original Whitechapel murders were in 1888 and Ripper Street is set a year later, given the fact that there have been so many books, films and TV shows on the subject and many people (including, I dare say, many of our readers!) have devoted their lives to the study of Jack the Ripper, why do you think we continue to be fascinated with this period of grisly Victorian history?

MARK: Somebody out here in LA said to me last week that Victorian London is basically Britain’s version of the Wild West in terms of backdrop to dramas. I think there may be some truth in it. Take away all modern technology and the extra constraints of contemporary society, and what you have is the unruly infancy of today’s world with all the danger and volatility that comes with it. You also have a sense of fun, of the possibilities and a pervading feeling of ‘anything goes’ which wouldn’t really work in too many other areas. Add into the mix some great legendary characters like Jack the Ripper or Billy the Kid, not to mention the odd iconic location or fancy costume, and it gets easy to see why writers feel so drawn to these worlds.

Mark Dexter as Sir Arthur Donaldson in 'Ripper Street' Episode 1: 'I Need Light'

Mark Dexter as Sir Arthur Donaldson in ‘Ripper Street’ Episode 1: ‘I Need Light’

DAMIAN: Also in my review, I praised your performance and I don’t just do this with any member of the cast – only the actors I’m interviewing! I wrote that “in a role which could have easily descended into the hammy and melodramatic, Mark Dexter impresses as Sir Arthur Donaldson with a subtle and nuanced performance remaining still and silent for much of his screen time while his haunting eyes tell a very different story, portraying an inner evil and perversity”. I’m curious as to how you approached the role, from reading Richard Warlow‘s script to being directed on set by Tom Shankland, what was your particular vision for the character and how did that translate onscreen?

MARK: I went looking for a health problem! In the absence of ‘evil’ (which is always a less interesting options) there was clearly something not functioning correctly in the mind of this man. I had some conversations with a psychiatrist friend about the sorts of conditions that they encounter in their work which can lead people towards dark acts like those Donaldson commits. It turns out that there is so much still not fully understood about people’s darker motivations, but just hearing some of the examples was enough of a foundation to build on. At the end of the day you just have to plunge down into the filth!

Mark Dexter and Charlene McKenna as Rose

Mark Dexter and Charlene McKenna as Rose

DAMIAN: I thought that the brilliant Charlene McKenna who is one of my favourite young actresses at the moment, had an incredibly difficult role given what her character has to endure throughout the episode’s climax but she managed to pull it off with dignity and an innate empathy for the part. Was it difficult to film those scenes?

MARK: Thank God for Charlene McKenna! The fact is, those were tough scenes to shoot for so many reasons, but things could have been infinitely harder if the two people involved didn’t fundamentally get along, and Charlene is so fabulous that we actually managed to have a curiously pleasant experience overall. But boy did we have our work cut out! Even the weather was against us. It wasn’t just brutal sexual assault involving chains, drugs and asphyxiation, but some of it involved skimpy costumes in hailstorms, icy rain and high wind!

Poor Rose - always getting herself into trouble!

Poor Rose – always getting herself into trouble!

DAMIAN: While we’re on the subject of those final scenes, you had to wear some rather interesting choices of wardrobe – what did you do to upset the costume designer?

MARK: I wiped out her entire family! You’d think so right? Actually, to be fair, I was heavily involved from the start and was able to organize a design which was as comfortable and practical as possible. What I’m saying is – it could actually have been worse!

DAMIAN: Following the broadcast of the first episode of Ripper Street, there was some negative publicity from certain newspapers and websites and nearly ninety viewers made complaints to BBC. I would argue that this was as unfair as it was inaccurate. Indeed, there is far more violence to be found in other prime time shows, particularly those imported from America and it is the fact that the show dared to appear in a Sunday-night slot that is traditionally reserved for productions such as Downton Abbey. Had Ripper Street been purely an American production, not for the BBC at all and neither appeared on a Sunday night or over the sacred Christmas holiday period, I doubt anyone would even raised an eyebrow. Yes, there were some disturbing scenes and the female characters may conform (to an extent) to Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar‘s The Madwoman in the Attic (the 1979 study which examines Victorian fiction from a feminist perspective exploring the notion that female characters either embody the image of “angel” or “monster”) stereotypes but this was Victorian England where it is estimated that there were up to 120,000 prostitutes working in London during the 1800’s. Furthermore, on the subject of pornography, albeit in Victorian literary form rather than the cinematograph, it frequently depicted a male protagonist controlling the object of his desire through force, violence and rape. Regardless to how disturbing, and despite having the opportunity to switch off after a warning of such graphic content, it seems to me that the show accurately portrayed certain historical aspects of Victorian society rather than exploiting them and besides, what exactly were viewers expecting from a show call RIPPER Street? What was your reaction to all the fuss?

MARK: I saw it coming. I mean I do agree that once you have established the tone with the reference to Jack the Ripper in the show’s title, anyone taking offence really might have been better off heeding the implicit warning and switching channels. This is not ‘Fairy Cake Street’, after all. On the other hand, this is the BBC and it’s Sunday night, and maybe some folks are taking issue with such a show being on their TV at all. I think it’s only fair to allow those people to have a voice. But in terms of the portrayal of women, them being seen as monsters or angels, I think the BBC should make more shows which deal with exactly how things were for women in Victorian London, in the poorer streets of the East End, the challenges they faced on a daily basis and the adversities they were forever striving to overcome. But the fact is, Ripper Street was not one of those shows, it was never going to be, and nor was it ever meant to be. This was the BBC choosing to do something else entirely. At the risk of repeating myself, the clue was always in the title.

DAMIAN: Finally, what’s with this bottled beer blog of yours? Why the fascination with beer and of bottled beer in particular?

MARK: Poor old beer. It’s so massively misunderstood. There are products out there on the market, many of them very new, which are nothing like the popular conception of ‘beer’ and I’m trying to spread the word. I feature all kinds on my blog, good and bad, but the ones at the top of my high score chart are nearly always from new breweries who go under the banner of ‘craft beer’. Remember that term – it’s going to be everywhere!

DAMIAN: There’s actually a Ripper bottled beer from the Green Jack Brewery – have you tried it?

MARK: I think I’ve had enough “ripping” for a while – please don’t encourage me!


DAMIAN: You’ve heard of Desert Island Discs, but how about Desert Island Drinks? You’re stranded alone on an island with only eight bottles of beer for company – which eight different bottles of beer would take with you?

MARK: I hope there’s a fridge on this island as most of these need chilling! (DAMIAN: yes Mark – you’re allowed one luxury item!). In my present mood I’d take ‘Kipling’ from Thornbridge, ‘Maharaja’ from Avery, ‘Export Stout London 1890’ from The Kennel, ‘Hardcore IPA’ from BrewDog, ‘East India Pale Ale’ from Brooklyn, ’90 Minute IPA’ from Dogfish Head, ‘Conqueror 1075’ from Windsor & Eton and ‘Joseph Williamson’ from Liverpool Organic. But I’d be building a boat with the empties as there are loads more I’d miss very badly!

DAMIAN: Mark, it’s been a huge privilege to have the opportunity of this interview and I look forward to seeing much more of you in the corner of my living room. Cheers!


Readers can follow Mark Dexter on twitterhttps://twitter.com/BottledBeerYear and view his blog here: http://thebottledbeeryear.blogspot.co.uk/

(Please enjoy Mark Dexter responsibly!)

Mark Dexter is represented by the Curtis Brown agency. For contact information please see http://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/mark-dexter/

Series two of Ripper Street is currently filming once again in Dublin and the eight episodes are tentatively scheduled to be broadcast early 2014.


This article originally appeared in The Journal of the Whitechapel Society Journal – Edition 50: June 2013. For subscription and back issues, please see http://www.whitechapelsociety.com/


RIPPER STREET: Series One Review and analysis

Series One Review and analysis by Damian Michael Barcroft
“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid… He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honour, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”
The Simple Art of Murder  (1950) –  Raymond Chandler
Throughout my recent viewing and subsequent writing and research on the BBC’s hugely successful Ripper Street, I am constantly reminded of this quote. Chandler, (born 1888) is one of the most significant authors to have defined mainstream American detective fiction and these immortal words describe arguably its greatest hero – Philip Marlowe. However, looking beyond the obvious wordplay – down these mean (Ripper) streets indeed! –  we might also apply these wholesome attributes to the incorruptible Detective Inspector Edmund Reid or at least his onscreen counterpart, the undoubtedly equally wholesome and incorruptible Matthew Macfadyen.
Both Marlowe and Reid are the kind of heroes we would like to be if only we were born in the right period of history or perhaps most significantly, possessed the right set of attributes: tough-minded, loyal and indeed incorruptible. Marlowe and Reid must withstand and deal with the seamy side of life, walking the mean streets of Los Angeles and Whitechapel respectively. They both live in worlds where the socially, politically, racially and sexually conscious detective must prevail in order for those under their protection to live out any sort of meaningful and moral existence. They fight the battles that we are afraid to, they tolerate the pain that we cannot endure, they carry the scars and we – all of us – are quietly grateful.
The incorruptible Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen)

The incorruptible Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen)

Ripper Street’s central character, Detective Inspector Edmund Reid displays all these traits of a hero and more, yet he is not a man completely without transgression and his tragic past, both professionally and personally, continue to haunt him. Throughout the entire eight-episode run of the first series, we never know who he really is or what makes him so. Indeed, the same can be said of other characters in the show, especially his brothers in arms, Det. Sgt. Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) and Cpt. Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg). It is this question of identity that one could argue is indicative of the entire production and I find it both amusing and somewhat ironic that in a back story centred upon the failed discovery of the identity of Jack the Ripper, that Ripper Street also fails to unearth a definitive identity of its own. As a purely British police procedural drama (therefore excluding its many American influences), it echoes everything from Dixon of Dock Green (1955-76) to Prime Suspect (1991-2006) and as British period costume drama, it borrows liberally from a wealth of television culture including Sherlock Holmes and the many screen adaptations of Charles Dickens’ novels to name but a few.
However, to put this in a different and more positive way, there are simply so many good ideas going on in the series that they sometimes distract from individual episodes. It is as though the show is trying too hard at times but it really doesn’t need to because it’s already one of the most stylish and interesting of its kind on television at the moment and I’ve every confidence that it will find its own stride and indeed identity in the next series.
Brothers in arms: Reid with Det. Sgt. Drake (Jerome Flynn) and Cpt. Jackson (Adam Rothenberg)

Brothers in arms: Reid with Det. Sgt. Drake (Jerome Flynn) and Cpt. Jackson (Adam Rothenberg)

In addition to not ever focusing on any particular style or genre of its own, each week we are presented with a new, and sometimes superfluous, set of characters and themes/issues that while interesting, frequently distract from the main narrative of the show. These have included pornography and prostitution (01: I Need Light), child gangs and vigilantism (02: In My Protection), disease and hysteria (03: The King Came Calling), government/council conspiracy and capitalism (04: The Good of This City), war and post-traumatic stress disorder (05: The Weight of One Man’s Heart), anarchy and terrorism (06: Tournament of Shadows), commercial takeover and exploitation (07: A Man of My Company) and the sex slave industry (08: What Use Our Work). All these are undoubtedly fascinating and incredibly topical issues to explore but only if they are presented in a way that compliment a wider framework instead of halting the action and events for the sake of a sermon.
Furthermore, Ripper Street wastes far too much time drawing on every scrap of Victoriana while taking a few too many historical liberties. Indeed, one is surprised that we haven’t bumped into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and other celebrities of the period and perhaps it is only a matter of time before the Elephant Man makes an appearance. Instead, the writers should focus on what they do best and that is to showcase their brilliant array of characters and the excellent ensemble cast. The chemistry between many of the actors are particularly engaging and highlights must surely include, in addition to the three main male leads, the sisterly bond between Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) and Rose Erskine (Charlene McKenna), the love-hate relationship of Long Susan and Jackson, Drake and Rose’s doomed romance and H Division’s fatherly love for poor PC Dick Hobbs (the excellent and understated Jonathan Barnwell). His death provided a real and unexpected emotional punch and his absence will be a huge loss to the show.
RIP PC Dick Hobbs (Jonathan Barnwell)

RIP PC Dick Hobbs (Jonathan Barnwell)

Excellent production values and atmosphere have been consistent throughout the series marking it as arguably the most visually memorable television show in recent times. Many episodes also boast some exciting predicaments for the lads to escape from (the fire at the photographic lab, the seize at the children’s orphanage, the cholera outbreak, the race to prevent Lucy Eames’ (Emma Rigby) medical “treatment”, the shootout with Drake’s former colonel, the abduction of Rose and many more. Indeed, with the combination of some of the action set pieces and the brotherly dynamics of Reid, Drake and Jackson, the series often feels like an East End equivalent of a western complete with an American character although one could cynically argue that Jackson’s inclusion was designed to appease audiences across the pond as this was a co-production with BBC America.
In a series that takes its title from Jack the Ripper, teases the audiences with copious references to the Whitechapel murders (the baker and his secret room full of newspaper cuttings and other assorted Ripper memorabilia – 03: The King Came Calling etc.) and even features copycat killings, or at least comparable disfigurement of the bodies (Maud Thwaites – 01: I Need Light and the streetwalker – 07/08 – A Man of My Company/What Use Our Work), one does feel somewhat underwhelmed and ultimately disappointed that the man wearing a top hat and carrying a Gladstone bag fails to make an appearance. Imagine what a great end to the first series and what a hell of a cliffhanger into the next installment it would have been had he emerged through the shadows and fog to claim just one more victim.
H Division

H Division

However, series creator and lead writer, Richard Warlow has repeatedly stated in interviews that he never had any intention of including the Ripper although I always suspected that he protested too much and this was merely an attempt to sidetrack the audience’s obvious anticipation and inevitable expectation rather similar to past Timelords who claim to know nothing about their possible inclusion in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special. I would argue that the show would have worked equally as well, indeed perhaps even more so, had the writers constructed their fictional stories alongside the actual Ripper investigation but perhaps my enthusiasm for the subject clouds my judgement.
Had it been the case that there were two storylines running simultaneously (both fictional and factual), I believe that there would have been an opportunity for a more satisfying story arc which would have allowed for greater scope in which the supporting characters might have flourished. As it is, Ripper Street features an impressive rogues’ gallery to rival those of Batman and DC Comics but which are sadly underused, never fully realised and failing to reach any ongoing dramatic potential, particularly Mark Dexter as Sir Arthur Donaldson (01: I Need Light), Joseph Gilgun/Carmichael (02: In My Protection), Paul McGann/Stanley Bone (04: The Good of This City), Iain Glen/Madoc Faulkner (05: The Weight of One Man’s Heart), Edoardo Ballerini/Frank Goodnight (07: A Man of My Company) and David Oakes/Victor Silver (08: What Use Our Work).
Regardless, Ripper Street has achieved highly respectable viewing figures internationally and continues to grow in popularity with fan fiction and artwork, music videos via YouTube and my own specially created twitter account, @RipperStreet, has many followers hungry for news and gossip surrounding the second series due to start filming in late March/early April to be broadcast sometime in 2014. Early rumours suggest it will be set between six months and a year from the last episode by which time all the surviving characters will have reached the final decade of the nineteenth century. However, for those that cannot wait that long, a three-disc DVD box set was released on 18 March with all eight unedited episodes and a documentary, Walking Whitechapel: Behind the Scenes of Ripper Street.
We began with a citation of a literary classic and shall conclude in a similar fashion by referencing another. In Edgar Allan Poe’s 1840 short story, The Man of the Crowd, we are treated to what one might label a “walk narrative” in which a nameless narrator and flaneur pursues a mysterious gentleman as he explores a crowded and increasingly depraved, degenerate and decadent London. It is in this tale that we first observe the seeds of the original detective story in which criminal profiling and deduction are developed which would accumulate in the creation of Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and later Charles Dickens’ Inspector Bucket in Bleak House (1852/3) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (A Study in Scarlet, 1887). Poe’s Dupin adventures The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842) and The Purloined Letter (1844) together with The Man of the Crowd offer the concept of an impenetrable and deeply personal mystery as the narrator witnesses all manner of sin and vice that we like to publicly condemn but are secretly fascinated with and which provide a psychological backdrop to the dark exploration of the parasites, prostitutes, thieves and gamblers.
Despite the many criticisms put forward in this review, I remain a committed viewer of Ripper Street and want to explore their vision of Victorian Whitechapel further. Perhaps I can explain my intrigue with the series by revealing that my greatest enjoyment comes long after the end credits have finished as I replay and absorb the images and scenarios therein in some kind of post-voyeuristic way. Indeed, perhaps it is the promise of what might happen next, the anticipation of another encounter where our darkest fantasies may be indulged by the very worst of the criminal underclass but then ultimately redeemed by our most valiant and fearless Samaritans. Perhaps from the safety of our own living rooms we continue to stare through the televisual window into Whitechapel, not only hoping to discover more thrills and horrors, but continue to watch in pursuit of “the man of the crowd” and our deeper, darker selves.
To be continued. . .
This article was originally published in The Whitechapel Society Journal – Edition 49: April 2013 for subscription details and back issues, please see http://www.whitechapelsociety.com/

RIPPER STREET: Ladies and gentlemen – welcome to Whitechapel!


“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Whitechapel…”

by Damian Michael Barcroft


“As the sun sets over the Olympics, darkness rises on Ripper Street”
 On Thursday, 9th August 2012, I was contacted by Iain McCallum, the head of Press and PR at Tiger Aspect Productions about my helping to promote one of their new television series entitled Ripper Street. This was on the eve of the launch of their teaser trailer for the show which was going live the following day on the internet and set to screen on BBC One that evening and over the weekend. More than happy to oblige (they had me at the first word of the title!), I set my alarm for the next morning just before six and posted the link via my twitter account and was astonished by two things. Firstly, I was impressed by the stylish and unique promotional trailer, and secondly, I could not believe the reaction it had on the internet and the amount of interest it generated with many people tweeting me throughout the day (and the weeks and months that followed!) asking when the series was going to be broadcast. Alas, I was not privy to such information, indeed neither the BBC or Tiger Aspect knew at that particular point in time, but it illustrates the increasing power of social media.
The trailer begins with a bird’s-eye view of the skyline of contemporary London with the Olympic stadium framed at the centre of the screen. The camera tilts down through increasingly dense clouds and we find ourselves in the dark and moody backstreets of Whitechapel where a mysterious figure is being chased by three other men as the soundtrack plays Kanye West and Jay-Z’s No Church In The Wild and the voice-over proclaims, “As the sun sets over the Olympics, darkness rises on Ripper Street”. It was a great idea to incorporate the passion and success of London 2012, juxtaposing such an iconic and British celebration with another historical event, albeit one that is far more grim and less a source of national pride. Despite lasting less than a minute and showing very little of any actual footage from the series, the trailer must surely be one of the most creative and inventive in recent memory. I was also provided with the following official series synopsis which appeared in many newspapers, magazines and websites over the days and weeks that followed:
“April 1889 – six months since the last Jack The Ripper killing, East London is emerging into a fragile peace, hopeful that this killer’s reign of terror might at last have run its course. Nowhere is this truer than in the corridors of H Division, the police precinct charged with keeping order in the chaos of Whitechapel. Its men hunted this maniac; and failed to find him.
Ripper Street is their story. A police procedural set in the teeming streets of the East End as it moves into the last decade of the 19th Century. H Division was responsible for policing a relatively small area of just 1¼ square miles, yet into that space were packed some 67,000 people; a seething, bustling mass of the poor and dispossessed.
Between the factories, rookeries, chop shops and pubs that mark out this maelstrom moves DETECTIVE INSPECTOR EDMUND REID (Matthew Macfadyen) – a forward thinking detective haunted by a tragic past mistake. Accompanied by the ever loyal local brawn of DETECTIVE SERGEANT BENNETT DRAKE (Jerome Flynn) and the mercurial brilliance of the U.S. Army surgeon and one-time Pinkerton detective, CAPTAIN HOMER JACKSON (Adam Rothenberg), Reid seeks to bring justice and the rule of law to a world that is forever on the brink of mayhem. Ripper Strret is not another backward-looking ‘Hunt the Ripper’ story, but a fictionalised trek into the heart of a London borough living in the blood soaked aftermath of that forever anonymous killer. It is an investigative procedural about dedicated policeman for who life – and crime – go on.”
Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen)

Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen)

Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn)

Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn)

Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg)

Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg)

Left: Rose Erskine (Charlene McKenna) & Right: Long Susan (Myanna Buring)

Left: Rose Erskine (Charlene McKenna) & Right: Long Susan (Myanna Buring)

Episode 1: I Need Light

Written by Richard Warlow and directed by Tom Shankland (Originally broadcast: Sunday, 30th December 2012, 9-10pm on BBC One)
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Whitechapel”, a tour guide barks as he takes a group of curious thrill seekers, and thus us – the television audience, into the dark and foggy streets of London’s East End to explore the scenes of the crimes of a man we know only as Jack the Ripper. It is 1889 and six months have passed since the horrific murder of Mary Jane Kelly, the last of the five canonical victims and not long after reaching Miller’s Court, the unthinkable has happened – there’s been another murder! The Ripper has struck again – or has he?
Reid discovers the body of Maud Thwaits (Sarah Gallagher)

Reid discovers the body of Maud Thwaits (Sarah Gallagher)

I would defy any member of the audience, particularly Ripperologists, not be hooked within the first few minutes of Ripper Street, the new eight-part BBC series made in collaboration with BBC America and Tiger Aspect Productions. This pilot episode is a rare treat, a show that not only fulfills expectations but exceeds them and delivers more than simply thrilling entertainment. Furthermore, one might be so bold as to describe it as a postmodern pastiche in that there are familiar elements such as authentic Victorian characters and history but juxtaposed with fictional and contemporary narrative structures and devices such as the police procedural drama, serial killer thrillers and other related characteristics of the genre. Indeed, Ripper Street could well have been accompanied by the subtitle of CSI – Victorian London.
It is no exaggeration to say that the whole production looks like a multi-million-dollar Hollywood film, the production design and photography is simply stunning and the Dublin sets are the most visually impressive (albeit hardly historically or geographically accurate) recreations of Victorian Whitechapel since the Michael Caine miniseries,Jack the Ripper (1988) or From Hell (2001). However, even greater than all of this is the excellent cast which range from established television stars to supporting players and character actors who more than compensate for the arguably inevitable weaknesses of a show with such scope and ambition.
Reid and Drake examine the crime scene

Reid and Drake examine the crime scene.

One of the major criticisms is the derivative way in which it emulates the two recent Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films, particularly the title sequence, music score and the second scene in the episode with the bare-knuckle boxing, especially the choreography and editing, in which we are introduced to two of the main characters, Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and Detective Sergeant Bennett Drake (Jerome Flynn). Furthermore, one might also accuse the writer of borrowing liberally from not only Victorian historical fact, but also from the fictional works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson to name but a few authors of the period.  Another potential problem is the narrative structure which is not as tight and economical as it could be, leading to overlong scenes and a great deal of unnecessary exposition, especially when we are so rapidly introduced to yet another central male character, Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) resulting in some sort of “bromantic” threesome that could be in danger of becoming both superfluous and slightly annoying but time and the following episodes will hopefully prove me wrong.
Drake and Jackson

Drake and Jackson

However, it must be said these flaws or shortcomings are a small price to pay for a series that is clearly going to be brave and controversial and I am determined to celebrate the many positives especially when one considers the amount of mind numbing entertainment that usually masquerades as entertainment on BBC One and rival channels. Perhaps one of the most pleasing aspects is the way in which the programme constantly mentions and references events, people and places from Victorian London. From Gladstone to the expansion of the London Underground, photography and the fledgling cinema industry, identifying possible similarities between the first victim of the show (Maude Thwaites played by Sarah Gallagher) and the canonical murders – there is much to enjoy, especially for Ripperologists, not least the inclusion of a certain Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline (Clive Russell). As much as I adored Michael Caine’s take on the role, we were always aware that it was Caine the movie star that we were watching and not his character, (the less said about Johnny Depp the better!), so Russell’s portrayal has the potential in later episodes of becoming the definitive screen representation of Abberline and despite the fact that there are no definite photographs of the man, this incarnation is the best fit of how I imagined him to look from surviving pen-and-ink portraits.
Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline (Clive Russell) and Reid

Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline (Clive Russell) and Reid.

I’m not going to recapitulate the plot for several reasons, namely that much of this has been covered in the series synopsis above from Tiger Aspect, most of the readers will surely have seen the episode anyway and finally, I should not wish to spoil the story for anyone that hasn’t. However, I would like to draw your attention to some of the performances in the aforementioned stunning ensemble cast. While the three main male characters are wonderfully cast and deliver performances of both credibility and charisma (I’m sure the earnest and wholesome Macfadyen will be a particular hit with female members of the audience or perhaps Flynn will also delight should they be in the mood for a bit of rough!), I was far more interested and impressed by the supporting cast most notably Jonathan Barnwell as  the young and quietly courageous PC Dick Hobbs, MyAnna Buring as Long Susan – the feisty madam in charge of an incredibly respectable-looking brothel and Charlene McKenna as the young prostitute Rose Erskine – an incredibly difficult role given what her character has to endure throughout the episode’s climax (you know what I’m referring to if you’ve seen it) but she manages to pull it off with dignity and an innate empathy for the part. Finally, in a role which could have easily descended into the hammy and melodramatic, Mark Dexter impresses as Sir Arthur Donaldson with a subtle and nuanced performance remaining still and silent for most of his short screen time but his haunting eyes tell a very different story and portray an inner evil and perversity. Dexter is a prolific actor who has appeared onscreen in a variety of successful television shows including Doctor WhoThe Bletchley Circleand Silent Witness but I’m sure many readers will mostly remember him as Prince Edward Albert Victor in From Hell.
Sir Arthur Donaldson (Mark Dexter)

Sir Arthur Donaldson (Mark Dexter)

Some of the most enjoyable moments were those that were simple in nature but all the more effective because of it. The props department should be applauded and I loved the little touches such “Dr. Jackson’s Topical Remmedy” medicine bottle in Cpt. Homer Jackson’s room which was positioned in such a way that only the part of the label was visible – “Dr. Jack…”. I was also pleased to see many authentic replicas of Victoriana including the original Jack the Ripper crime scene and autopsy photographs. The highlight however, must surely be the Star journalist Fred Best’s (David Dawson) office with numerous framed newspaper covers depicting the Whitechapel murders and various Ripper suspects. It is lovely touches such as these that will delight Victorian enthusiasts and serve as such an effective contrast with the more dramatic and explosive scenes such as the one in which Reid, Drake and Jackson are trapped inside a photography laboratory that is engulfed in flames.
The real H Division police force including DI Edmund Reid

The real H Division police force including DI Edmund Reid

With the inclusion of so many real life characters in the episode such as Reid (1846-1917), Abberline (1843-1929) and Best (b. c. 1858), there will no doubt be purists in the audience who will grumble at its historical accuracy but this is to miss the point entirely. The concept for the show was never be a history lesson about Whitechapel or even pursue the idea of Jack the Ripper and his actual identity. Instead, the writers have chosen a “what if” scenario in which to explore and tell stories about how the murders affected the community and the police who failed to protect them and apprehend the killer. Indeed, I would argue that by freeing themselves from the constraints of historical accuracy and complex Ripper lore, the dramatists have the opportunity to explore (in this and later episodes) not just serial murder, but also pornographers, child gangs, slum landlords, vigilantes and anarchists – all of which are still very much relevant to today’s society and problems.
Jackson and Long Susan

Jackson and Long Susan

Surely the true test of any first episode of a new series is to ask yourself, do you want to continue watching and learn more about its characters? Consider the character of Reid, haunted and scarred by not having captured the Ripper and we learn his scars are physical too in a scene in which he undresses to reveal terrible burns across his back. Additionally, we are also tantalized and teased by wondering what is the back story of Drake – hard as nails but with a heart of gold and fiercely protective of the younger coppers such as Hobbs, and finally, what exactly is the relationship between Jackson and Long Susan? All will no doubt be revealed, and I for one can’t wait for the next opportunity to peer around the corner and into the shadows of the dark and bloody Ripper Street.
“The most significant reinvention of Victorian iconography since the BBC’s Sherlock”
Episode 2: In My Protection
Written by Richard Warlow and directed by Tom Shankland (Originally broadcast: Sunday, 6th January 2013, 9-10pm on BBC One)
Reid and Drake with Thomas Gower (Giacomo Mancini)

Reid and Drake with Thomas Gower (Giacomo Mancini)

It was difficult to know exactly what to expect after the first episode – would there simply be more dead bodies of women found in the backstreets of Whitechapel, more monstrous men manipulating and exploiting women? Instead, the second episode took an entirely different and surprising direction, the resulting story being far more involving with the characters really beginning to establish strong characterisations and chemistry with each other and much more fascinating back story revealed making this a truly great ensemble cast.
Drake continues to identify with and protect the younger characters which really brings another sympathetic dimension to his hard man role. The troubled relationship with Reid and his wife is explored further revealing that Jack the Ripper was not the only mystery to give him sleepless nights – there is also the disappearance of his daughter, a subplot that is beautifully brought to life when he reluctantly tucks one of the little girls into bed at the orphanage. Jackson develops his contradictory and complex character with his prostitutes and gambling, essentially becoming both part of and a solution to many of Whitechapel’s troubles.
Many new and exciting characters are also introduced, most notably Joseph Gilgun as the terrifying Carmichael, a creation truly worthy of being a Dickensian villain (indeed, he is almost a hybrid of Fagin and Bill Sykes and the story does often echo and parallel the themes of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist) who recruits young boys in order to groom them into carrying out his dark deeds such as Thomas Gower (played exceptionally well by Giacomo Mancini). The scenes with Carmichael and his child gang (almost a evil and sickening opposite to Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars) are not only disturbing but also eerily evocative of recent events with the London riots. Perhaps most interesting of all though, is the inclusion of yet another historical character so important to the the world of Ripperology – President and chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, George Lusk (1839-1919) played by the always watchable and reliable Michael Smiley.
The terrifying Carmichael (Joseph Gilgun) with Gower)

The terrifying Carmichael (Joseph Gilgun) with Gower)

The episode boasts many memorable scenes such as the hanging at the gallows, the fight between Long Susan and Carmichael at the gambling house and Reid’s final confrontation with the child gang at the Jewish Orphanage. Indeed, one could argue that there is actually too much going on with little time in between to digest the set pieces and the many frustratingly leading lines, for example Long Susan to Jackson: “You forget who we are, what we have done” and the mystery surrounding the ring that he gambled away to Carmichael.
On the evidence of the first two episodes at least, it may not be the perfect series but then so few are. There are times when the dialogue is either inaudible or simply not in keeping with the period, the main story arc and subplots often appear overburdened with such a cast of characters – so much so that it is frequently detrimental to the overall cohesion of the main plot and how the characters interact and relate to one another. However, I believe it to be the most significant reinvention of Victorian iconography since the BBC’s Sherlock and if it inspires the next generation of Ripperologists and Victorian historians to visit their libraries, dusting off old books and examining newspapers and documents, then this will perhaps be the shows greatest achievement of all.
Next time on Ripper Street…
So what can we expect in the future from Ripper Street? Well, despite the BBC receiving almost 90 complaints due its alleged graphic violence and negative portrayal of women, the pilot episode attracted a very respectable 6.1 million viewers and an industry insider has revealed to me (tell no one!) that a second series has already been commissioned with filming beginning as early as April.
In response to some of the negative publicity which dominated many newspaper and website columns in the New Year, I would argue that it is as unfair as it is inaccurate. Indeed, there is far more violence to be found in other prime time shows, particularly those imported from America and it is the fact that the programme dared to appear in a Sunday-night slot that is traditionally reserved for productions such as Downton Abbey and the like. Had Ripper Street been purely an American production, not made by the BBC at all and neither appeared on a Sunday night or over the sacred Christmas holiday period, I doubt anyone would have even raised an eyebrow. Yes, there were some disturbing scenes and the female characters may conform to Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic (The 1979 study which examines Victorian fiction from a feminist perspective exploring the notion that female characters either embody the image of “angel” or “monster”) stereotypes but this was Victorian England during the aftermath of one of the most horrific series of crimes the world has ever known – what were they expecting from a show called RIPPER Street?
I would like to sincerely thank Iain McCallum, Sophie Appleton and all the gang at Tiger Aspect Productions for the promotional materials they kindly sent to me and for all their help and support. Cheers guys!
This article was originall published in The Whitechapel Society Journal – Edition 48: February 2013 for subscription details and back issues, please see http://www.whitechapelsociety.com/

JACK THE RIPPER: A review of the Michael Caine TV Movie


A review by Damian Michael Barcroft


TUESDAY, 18TH OCTOBER 1988 was one hell of a long day for me. I must have been only thirteen at the time but I can vividly recall sitting at school, maths in particular, and staring out of the window dreaming of the televisual treat ahead of me that evening. Having vigorously studied copies of both the Radio Times and the TV Times the previous week, (remember the days when you actually had to buy both publications for the BBC1 & 2, ITV and Channel 4 listings?), always on the lookout for horror movies, particularly those from Universal Studios and Hammer, I noticed something called Jack the Ripper. Although I knew little about him, I had heard of him before and  that name was as familiar to me as Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and all of those other classic monsters. What I didn’t know was that he had actually existed and after reading more about him, I was thrilled at the prospect of discovering his identity. Fractions, percentages, not even the pretty girl with whom I shared a desk – who, despite various fantasies to the contrary, I never did end up marrying – could distract me from the foggy and gas-lit streets of Whitechapel. Who was Jack the Ripper, why did he viciously murder all those women and why was he never brought to justice?

So well crafted and exciting, the mini-series had such a profound effect on me that twenty three years later, and like many other Ripperologists, I am still asking myself those same questions. However, for many years and because of this production, I believed that the Ripper mystery had been solved and that the murderer was Sir William Gull. Only after reading several books, and watching other films and documentaries on the subject, did I realise that there were other arguably more credible suspects and that I had been somewhat naive or worse, even cheated into thinking that the case had been solved once and for all. Watching the film again for the purposes of this review, it still retains its power over me and the child within still wants to believe. For me, the production remains a classic of the genre and I consider it to be perhaps the best of all the Ripper dramatic productions made for either television or the cinema. There is just one problem, as an adult, I’m afraid I don’t believe a word of it and as great a television producer and writer that David Wickes obviously is, I suspect he has been pulling my leg all along.


Film and television is, first and foremost, made for the purposes of entertainment. There, I’ve said it and although there will be plenty of pretentious artists and critics who might argue otherwise, most audiences watch in order to be entertained. If, as the BBC frequently likes to boast, we can be educated at the same time, then so much the better but the focus of the producers and the television executives, particularly within the area of drama is to entertain. I don’t even have a problem with this but what I do take issue with is entertaining the audience in the guise of “docudrama” with its inherit implications and going to great lengths to claim that it is both a true and authentic account of historical events. Let’s be very clear about this, this particular production was sold to audiences in this country and over in America as being a true account of who the writers and researchers believed Jack the Ripper to be based on their exclusive research. Am I wrong to doubt their sincerity? – let us look at the evidence…

David Wickes employed the services of Sue Davies to research the Whitechapel murders of 1888 and she claims to have spent four years reading over forty books and studying Home Office files in order to achieve this. Intriguingly, and adding to the mystique of conspiracy, she also claims that the contents of these files were different every time she visited which aroused her suspicion greatly as certain documents would be missing that she had already inspected previously. Like many great conspiracy theories from those surrounding JFK to 9/11, Wickes believes that it was the government of the period (Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives in this particular case) that ordered the removal of the files to prevent further anti-monarchy sentiments that were prevalent at the time. His reasoning for this was that you don’t embargo on the files for 100 years if it was just some immigrant from Poland for example. Therefore, this confirmed Wickes’ suspicion that the Ripper was linked to the Royal Family or at least “politically very explosive” as he describes it in his conversation with Jonathan Sothcott for the DVD commentary. However, Denis Meikle writes in his book, Jack the Ripper: The Murders and the Movies that ‘despite a slew of advance publicity to the effect that new information from hitherto unreleased Home Office files had come to light in the meanwhile, the only information which had come to light had [already] been incorporated into Stephen Knight’s Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution‘. Furthermore, he continues somewhat scornfully:

‘What was surprising about Jack the Ripper was how little Wickes and his co-writer Derek Marlowe added to the ideas advanced in 1973 [Wickes was responsible for a BBC production made in that year], instead, they subtracted from them to smooth the path of melodrama, for melodramatic Jack the Ripper most certainly was. Gone were the shenanigans involving the Freemasons; gone was the royal connection (except for Eddy’s nomination as one of the many red-herring suspects); gone was so much as a whisper of a government cover-up. The prime suspect remained the same, and the mechanics of murder were plundered, uncredited, from the work of the now-dead Knight’.


Also in the DVD commentary, Wickes does mention that he had been in contact with Stephen Knight way back on the BBC version but this is as far as the acknowledgement goes. During the same period, Wickes states that he got to know Joseph Gorman Sickert who believed that the Ripper murders were carried out by Sir William Gull in order to protect the scandalous secret of Prince Albert Victor’s illegal marriage. One detail that emerged from this particular experience was that there must have been a second person involved in the Ripper killings because of the distance between the double murders sites and the idea of a coach driver became prominent in Wickes’ mind although Sue Davies claims John Charles Netley as her own discovery. Regardless, the Sickert hypothesis was not only highly controversial, but has since been examined and rejected by most serious students of the Ripper killings.

Nevertheless, like the Dr Thomas E. A. Stowell theory entitled Jack the Ripper – A Solution? (appearing in the November 1970 issue of The Criminologist), the idea that the Duke of Clarence was actually Jack the Ripper, Sickert’s argument has captured the public’s imagination and remained an enduring conspiracy theory particularly with those sections of society who like to think their government is constantly plotting against them. Incidentally as Coville and Lucanio point out: ‘Sickert’s explanation, whether by accident or design, was providentially timed to take advantage of the spreading public cynicism on both sides of the Atlantic that began taking hold in the 1960’s as political scandals and dissent brought into question the legitimacy of governmental authority’. Furthermore, and I find it interesting that both books share similar yet slightly conflicting interpretations of the film, as Meikle notes:

‘At the time of Jack the Ripper‘s production, Thatcherism was at its height; the Conservative Party was nearing the end of a second successive term in government and looking forward with certainty to a third, Britain was enjoying the fruits of a boom economy, and the “yuppie” was alive and well and sipping champagne at the wheel of a Porsche in the City of London. The bubble had not yet burst… If Sherlock Holmes had envinced socialist tendencies in Murder by Decree, the protagonist of Jack the Ripper, on the other hand, were true blue literally and politically. The Metropolitan Police are Custer’s 7th, standing firm in the face of a Sioux nation determined to run them down. The Vigilance (Vigilante in the film) Committee’s George Lusk is depicted as a Marxist agitator, while the news reporter with whom he curries favour to ferment unrest gives voice to the megalomaniac philosophies which so often are attributed to the press as a whole by the instinctively censorious in public life: “The power of the press is the threat of the press – even for royalty”, he declares. In order to maintain this charade, Gull’s Ripper is stripped of any conspiratorial connections and assigned the unrealistic role of lunatic at large. But the film’s heroic portrayal of the police force went further than the fisticuffs engaged in by Godley and Abberline to quell dissent and save the country from social revolt (as the real police had saved the government of the day from the wrath of the miner’s only a few years before). It stretched to redressing the bad press which historians had bestowed on Charles Warren, as well. Alone in Ripper cinema, Jack the Ripper depicts Warren as a tragic hero, holding the fort in the face of tribal unrest, like Gordon at Khartoum: “Warren out? They’re shouting my name”, he cries uncomprehendingly, as George Lusk’s rentamob of anarchists try to batter down the doors of Scotland Yard.’


To help to illustrate the argument that Wickes was rather selective and misleading in his presentation of the facts, the TV Times ran with an article that boasted ‘Michael Caine is going to help reveal the identity of Jack the Ripper when he stars as Inspector Abberline’ and ‘Caine, who says he doesn’t know how the series ends but has been told the true-life identity of Jack the Ripper will be revealed’. Additionally, ‘So who was Jack the Ripper? All will be revealed next week’. It is quite clear that Wickes and various publicity materials from the time were claiming this as the definitive answer to the then 100-year-old mystery. In America, where they had received so much financial backing and the other essential half of the audience, the Chicago Tribune claimed that this ‘mini-series puts the Jack the Ripper mystery to rest’ and ‘Now in a four-hour mini-series, Jack the Ripper will be unmasked at last’. You could hardly blame anyone, least of all a thirteen-year-old boy for believing that the case was finally closed. Indeed, as Coville and Lucanio state:

‘The quarrel with Wickes’ approach to Jack the Ripper is not the degree or nature of dramatic license employed by the film-maker; every creative individual, from Sophocles through Shakespeare to Oliver Stone, has shunned historical accuracy when that accuracy fails to conform to dramatic effect. The quarrel is with the public presumption of a film’s historical credibility which is often manufactured by the artist through the means of the modern docudrama. Dramatic effect is no longer dramatic effect but historical accuracy, films that were once just films – presentations, not representations, of history – now masquerade as historical documents. Audiences are either willing to accept, or are unable or ill-prepared to challenge, the ideas that are conveyed as fact or truth through such films. As a result, history gives way to propaganda in a manner it never has before’.


Maybe I shouldn’t feel so naive after all and in retrospect, one can easily perceive the way in which Wickes is clearly manipulating his audience with such a quality cast and high production values that serve to enhance the impression of the film’s historical legitimacy. This is particularly the case when he concludes his film with the same device used to open it; purportedly drawing strength, like the prologue, in its pretence of being objective:

‘Again, Wickes gives the impression that the film has been a scholarly inquiry, but of particular and amusing note are the extensive credits which run at the film’s completion that summarily abrogate any impression of scholarship. Recognition is extended in virtually all directions… Nowhere in that long list is acknowledgement given by name to any of the “leading criminologists” or “Scotland Yard officials” who were assured in the prologue had been consulted. Such lack of attribution may be of little consequence in ordinary film making, but it is dubious omission for any work that presents itself as a serious piece of historical research.’ (Coville and Lucanio)


It is interesting to note acclaimed Ripper expert Donald Rumbelow’s reaction to the film commenting at a 1995 Arts and Entertainment Network biography of Jack the Ripper: ‘I’ve been astonished at the number of people, for instance, [who] look at the Michael Caine film and say “Oh, the mystery is solved”. It’s not. The whole thing, 99% of it, is fiction. But for a lot of people that’s the solution to the case; so, therefore, if they do come across evidence, if they do come across documentation they’re not going to put it forward because they think the mystery has been solved. It hasn’t and that’s one of the things we need to sort of get over. We are still looking for the identity of Jack the Ripper’. Another commentator, Christopher Hudson writing for the Daily Mail in May 1997 observed: ‘Some years ago I was invited to write the screenplay of a film about Jack the Ripper based on precisely such [aforementioned] “exclusive” Home Office files, which were said to confirm that Queen Victoria’s personal physician, Sir William Gull, was the Ripper. As I inspected the photostats of these files – and what a miserably small, uninformative collection they turned out to be – it became plain that Sir William was no more likely to be Jack the Ripper than was Queen Victoria herself’.

However, as much as I admire and largely agree with the arguments put forth by both Denis Meikle in his book Jack the Ripper: The Murders and the Movies and Gary Coville and Patrick Lucanio in theirs, Jack the Ripper: His Life and Crimes in Popular Entertainment, I do not wish for them to eclipse the monumental achievement of David Wickes, Euston Films/Thames Television and the entire cast and crew. Even at the very beginning of the film, from its audience grabbing and authoritative sounding voice-over to the majestic music score by John Cameron and the evocative cinematography by Alan Hume, the production exudes class and distinction.

The film has several memorable scenes and set-pieces but I find the Jekyll and Hyde transformation scenes in the theatre particularly effective and suitably horrific providing yet another, but completely (dramatically at least) justified, red-herring. Furthermore, Mansfield’s description of his style of acting in which he must participate rather than observe is rather apt considering the pioneering work of the Russian actor and theorist Constantin Stanislavski (1863-1939). Consider for example, the practitioner’s psychological realism which explores character and action both from the “inside out” and the “outside in”, affective or emotional memory and the actors ability to recall personal memories or situations similar to their characters and you have a perfectly credible explanation as to why an actor would go to such great and extreme lengths to research their role. Indeed, as someone who has studied acting and later taught drama, I can attest to the devotion or perhaps obsession with getting “under the skin” of their subjects. Furthermore, by incorporating Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), screenwriters Derek Marlowe and David Wickes have tapped into an inspired, albeit fictional source of motive which echoed the frenzied speculations of the popular press in 1888, but as Denis Meikle argues, it is a significant and deliberate departure from the facts for the purposes of entertainment:

‘Abberline’s presence [at the Lyceum Theatre] is dictated by the medium’s insistence that he look for a killer with “two faces”; in the circumstances, Mansfield seems the obvious candidate. This sequence is the most striking and original aspect of Jack the Ripper, but it also encapsulates all that was both right and wrong about the production as a whole. When Mansfield is subsequently questioned by Abberline on the methods that he employs to achieve such a startling effect on stage, he responds with the expected Stanislavskian explanation about borrowing from life, which in the case of Hyde involves a corpulent eunuch at a brothel which he frequents in his off-duty hours. Mansfield’s television audience had not been treated to a spectacle of pure stagecraft, however (as were his stage ones in 1888), but to the cunning deceptions of the make-up department, with bladder effects and facial prosthetics applied between shots. Embellishing the facts to achieve a more desirable effect was a philosophy that was applied with equal diligence to the rest of the film… Jack the Ripper has a surface veneer of truth and authenticity. It appears to have gone to tremendous lengths to recreate the scene of the crimes (and in the case of the crime-scenes themselves, it succeeds) but, underneath, all is trickery and sleight-of-hand: everything about the film is as historically overblown and distorted as the fake Richard Mansfield’s latex face-mask.’

Of course while the hypothesis that Mansfield the actor might have conceivably suffered from such a similar schizophrenic personality, leading to the Ripper’s murderous crime spree, is a dramatically (albeit melodramatically) entertaining notion, there is little evidence to suggest he was either a valid suspect or had even ever met any of the victims. However, the fact remains that Mansfield was indeed appearing at the Lyceum in the dual role of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde during the time of the Ripper murders and this red herring is perfectly in keeping with Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story in terms of its themes and issues.

I was also greatly impressed with the evocative production design which obviously benefited from the multi-million-dollar signing of Michael Caine and the generous backing of the American network CBS, providing the audience with arguably the most credible and authentic sets of any Jack the Ripper production thus far. Over sixty sets were used, all of which are suitably atmospheric but carefully balanced so as to avoid the gothic cliché so often exploited in films of this genre. Actual location footage included a disused asylum in Virginia Water, Surrey, and Greenwich Naval College which interestingly was also used in the aforementioned Jack the Ripper vs. Sherlock Holmes film, Murder by Decree (1979).

The cast and quality of their performances are mostly excellent. Michael Caine as Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline holds the film together with his gravitas and sheer star power, while Lewis Collins as Sergeant George Godley delivers a solid performance as his sidekick. They both display an obvious affection for each other and their on-screen chemistry frequently evokes that shared by Holmes and Watson with plenty of welcome humour that acts as a brief respite from the horrific elements. A particular highlight is Godley attempting to take notes while Abberline asks for Gull’s analysis of madness and schizophrenia.

It was also refreshing to see the remaining canonical victims (the murder of Mary Nichols had already taken place before the start of the film) played with empathy and respect by Deirdre Costello (Annie Chapman),  Angela Crow (Elizabeth Stride), Susan George (Catherine Eddowes) and Lysette Anthony (Mary Kelly) as oppose to the usual stereotypical Cockney tart characterizations that litter productions such as these.

This is not to say that the production is without its problems, most notably the obligatory romance for the lead character which is both superfluous and conventional in the extreme. However, this is a small price to pay and at least Jane Seymour’s character (artist Emma Prentiss) is actually historically correct although there is no evidence to connect her to Abberline, particularly a romantic link. Other issues that grate slightly include Caine, and as powerful as his performance is, he is never far removed from the persona we are accustomed to: ‘Caine is at one with the others in the cast in bawling hysterically at every opportunity, epitomising all those comedic caricatures of himself as he does so and constantly recalling the moment in The Italian Job (1969) when he blurts out, “You were only meant to blow the bloody doors off!”‘ (Meikle). Indeed, only fourteen minutes into the film and at regular intervals afterwards – justifiably or otherwise – he is screaming and shouting in that seething and spitting manner of his. Additionally, in one of the few performances by the supporting actors that fails to entirely convince, Michael Gothard as the rioter George Lusk becomes a little too over the top and clichéd, shouting “Murderer! – Hang him! far too often whenever the opportunity presents itself. One could argue that these scenes, and indeed his performance in them, are meant to reflect the panic and hysteria of the time but equally, repetition of this nature does become a little tiresome after awhile.

Undoubtedly one of the most entertaining aspects of the production is the whodunit element which successfully keeps us guessing until the grand finale in which Jack the Ripper/Gull is thrown out of the cab by Abberline. Indeed, towards the end of the climax virtually every male cast member is put under suspicion but the most impressive list of suspects include: the celebrated American actor, Richard Mansfield (Armand Assante), anarchist and President/chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee, George Lusk (Michael Gothard), alleged royal psychic Robert James Lees (Ken Bones), two doctors; royal physician Sir William Gull (Ray McAnally) and his son-in-law Theodore Dyke Acland (Richard Morant), the delusional freelance cabbie, John Charles Netley (George Sweeney), and to the horror of the police and government officials, Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward – Duke of Clarence (Marc Culwick).

In conclusion, I suspect that this production was something of a political platform for Wickes’ own beliefs and opinions using the character of Abberline “I hate politicians” as a mouthpiece for his own interpretation of events and his almost blinkered assessment of the wealth of contrasting theories surrounding Jack the Ripper. Indeed, during the DVD commentary, there are numerous signs of a certain resentment or lack of respect towards enthusiasts of the subject or those with conflicting opinions as to the identity of the Ripper including calling us ‘Ripper freaks’, stating that ‘most Ripperologists don’t know a dam thing’ and labelling a significant amount of related literature as ‘sub-journalism [that] was not the sort of scholarship that we were into and Sue, who is educated and intelligent wouldn’t accept that kind of standard’and so most Ripper books were rejected as a load of rubbish! He goes on to eliminate the Duke of Clarence and James Maybrick as suspects, labels the Freemasons as ‘another romantic theory’ (although he accepts it could have been a Freemason but not the Freemasons), shows disdain for Patricia Cornwell calling her book and theory ‘laughable’.

However, these issues aside, and despite what Coville and Lucanio call a ‘hodgepodge of conspiratorial theories and an overindulgence of dubious historical characterizations’, the production remains more than just a beautifully crafted film to commemorate the Ripper’s centenary, but also an enduring one which even manages to resonate and parallel recent events including the disgraceful London riots and newspaper scandals – the sensationalist and exploitative reporter for The Star, Benjamin Bates (Jonathan Moore). Regardless, and as interesting as some of the arguments put forward here might be, none of this really matters in terms of the intrigue and enormous entertainment to be found in Wickes’ film that manages to please both the curious child and adult within us all.

Paul Begg, Martin Fido & Keith Skinner The Complete Jack the Ripper A to Z (John Blake, 2010)
Kenneth R. Clark, Mini-series puts Jack the Ripper mystery to rest (Chicago Tribune: TV Week, 16-22 October 1988)
Gary Coville & Patrick Lucanio, Jack the Ripper: His Life and Crimes in Popular Entertainment (McFarland, 1999)
Christopher Hudson, Daily Mail (May 1997)
Stewart Knowles, Another Ripping yarn from Caine (TV Times, 15-21 October 1988)
Denis Meikle, Jack the Ripper: The Murders and the Movies (Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2002)
and the DVD commentary by David Wickes and Sue Davies moderated by Jonathan Sothcott

This article was originally published in The Whitechapel Society Journal: London Conference Special Edition (August 2011). For subscription details and back issues, please see http://www.whitechapelsociety.com/