Review of Ripper Street ‘What Use Our Work?’

Neela Debnath

ripper 300x247 Review of Ripper Street What Use Our Work?


SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen episode 8 of ‘Ripper Street’

As the curtain fell on our heroes of the East End, these past two months have offered an interesting insight into this faux, hyper-real Victoriana version of Whitechapel, complete with its cockney geezers and top hats.

This week saw the resolution of Jackson’s storyline whereby he cleared his name using forensics to rightly prove that Goodnight framed him as the Ripper. There was also a subplot involving date rape and human trafficking, with Rose getting caught up in something that required Drake to rescue her yet again. On top of that the audience learnt the whole story of the night Reid lost his daughter Matilda.

The three simultaneous stories which were interwoven into the episode created a thrilling finale. It was a race against the clock to save Rose and also the girl thought to be Matilda but who turned out to be a street urchin.

It was a fantastic red herring thrown in there in amongst all the other things that were going on. There was the hope that finally Reid might find some peace and closure instead this dark shadow will always be there in his life. The sense of guilt will hang over him, the same guilt which caused a rift in marriage and led him to stray from his wife. As a rule all detectives need to remain workaholics, driven deeper into their work by the guilt of a dark and hunting past, Reid is no different in this respect. It would just be plain wrong if we saw him strolling jauntily through the streets of the East End, whistling a tune. If police officers are to be brilliant then they must remain troubled and either be alcoholics or philanderers or both.

What Use Our Work? was a strong finale to the series and by the last scene it felt like the trio were ready for more. Hobbs was not forgotten either which was a really nice touch and really honoured the character. The scene where Artherton, the officer with the great big bushy ginger beard who usually communicates only through his eyes, belted out a tune in the pub to mark the passing of the young officer was wonderfully poignant. All in all, it worked with a usual mixture of action, intrigue and drama, along with nasty little violent or visceral moments that pepper the series.

Ripper Street is a great Sunday night cop show, it’s engaging with three really interesting leads. Yes, there are a multitude of anachronisms but it is still good fun and essentially a police procedural in the Victorian age, i.e. CSI: Whitechapel. It is also worth mentioning that it has been beautifully shot. It may not have the same sweeping sets of other production but it manages to look like the east end of London, even if it is filmed in Ireland, most notably in Kilmainham Gaol with its Panopticon building and a car park outside Dublin Castle.

It was announced a few weeks ago that the show had been commissioned for a second series, so audiences can look forward to more of the same. However, I have some ideas that I think the makers should consider using.

Firstly, please include more outlandish, implausible and ridiculous anachronisms. I will be disappointed if the writers don’t manage to shoehorn in a reference to a smartphone or a tablet at some point.

Secondly, Joseph Merrick a.k.a ‘The Elephant Man’ needs to make an appearance just because it’s all part and parcel of the show’s ethos: cram everything that we ever knew about Victorians into the show.

Failing this request, there needs to be an episode set at a Victorian sideshow that looks at this more untoward side of culture in this period – plus it will make for shocking viewing just like the snuff movie in the first episode. Who knows they could even bring P.T. Barnum and his circus to Whitechapel – there is after all that Transatlantic connection.

Finally, there should be a story involving the Victorian practice of photographing the dead or mothers pretending to be chairs. Let me explain, during my meanderings on the Interweb I recently learnt of two common photographic practices in this era that may seem rather sinister to people now.

The first was the photographing of the dead. As a memento mori, Victorians would prop up the corpses of their relatives and photograph them, giving the illusion that they were alive. Sometimes even eyes were painted onto the image afterwards in those pre-Photoshop days. As photographs were expensive at the time, it was likely to be the only image they would have of said recently deceased loved one.

The second practice involved mothers draped in sheets with their child sitting on their lap, giving the impression that the child was sitting there alone. It sounds a bit creepy, just Google ‘Victorian’, ‘hidden’ and ‘mother’ – it’s rather unsettling but somewhat of an eye opener.

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  • thepeterd

    I’d like to see Captain Jackson deal with a few cases of hysteria.

  • Gaf the Horse

    Much as I have enjoyed this series, in a guilty “I’m not sure if this is good or bad” sort of way, you have to admit that most of the characters have ended Series 1 pretty much where they started it. Reid is still trapped in a disintegrating marriage hoping that his daughter is still alive somewhere, Mrs. Reid ditto, Drake pines after Rose, Jackson is living under an assumed name in a house of ill repute. In fact the only real character movement has come from Rose, leaving a life of prostitution to live with Mrs. Reid, and Hobbs, although his death kind of stops any further progression.

    It would have been more interesting had Reid and his wife admitted their marriage was over, but agreed to stay together because that’s what you did in Victorian London, while allowing Reid to continue his relationship with Miss Goran. Drake and Rose could be starting a courtship leading to marriage. Personally I’d drop the character of Long Susan. Much as I like MyAnna Buring, her role is very poorly written and serves only as a link into the world of prostitution. Her relationship with Jackson is similarly poorly thought through. Hopefully they will take the opportunity of a second series to be a bit bolder and allow the characters to grow.

    If you want to see this done properly seek out the similar but much better “City of Vice”, admittedly set in earlier Georgian London, but a similar exploration of the beginnings of modern policing, criminally cancelled by C4 after one series. A much better product all round.

  • truthsayer

    In afraid I wasn’t convinced by Matthew Macfadyen in the role of Reid. He was far too ‘nice’ and sensitive to be a senior cop in Victorian times. He’s more suitable for period dramas such as Pride & Prejudice.

  • slipnslide

    Don’t agree about comparison with City of Vice. That was good – but somehow didn’t quite gel for me in the way I think Ripper Street has. Ripper Street’s strength has been its good scripts, strong leads, fine photography, and emotional weight. MacFadyen has been very good in being both dynamic, and yet troubled and haunted – and the pacey direction has still allowed him dramatic space for pause – to reveal the conflict inside. A classy show – and much better than I expected when it began…

  • slipnslide

    No, I think what has been good about this role, and his performance in it, is that it has married his visible sensitivity with a decisiveness and dynamism that we don’t usually see from him – and he’s pulled it off very well. In fact I think he could be a prospective TV drama award-winner when these come round again….

  • MoodyKitty

    I was disappointed with the couple of episodes I saw. I can’t really put my finger on what it was. A good idea, but it just seemed to be ’sanitized’ and a bit too much of an American idea of Victorian London. Even the sets, they just looked a bit wrong somehow.Even down to the lurid colours of MyAnna Buring’s dresses (last night it seemed to be a sort of 80s dayglo green). As much as I rate all the actors involved, I found call the midwife more realistic, gritty and emotional.

  • DocCK

    I agree with slipnslide, this has been a brilliant intelligent and gritty drama. The writing, acting and production have been first class throughout the whole series.
    With regards to the finale, I thought it was a superbly written emotional roller coaster. The heartbreak of Reid not being reunited with his cherished daughter, the honesty of Drake not attempting to aid Jackson in his hour of need, Reid’s lover not willing to listen to his haunted feelings of guilt, Rose’s failed attempt to better herself….
    I will definitely miss this quality, original drama and greatly look forward to the second series.

  • Dromo

    A new fangled practice of cleaning the teeth .. preferably using a good lead toothpaste

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