Ripper Street, the new BBC TV show which had its first episode on Sunday, is not conventional Sunday evening viewing fare in the Heartbeat or Downton Abbey tradition. It's a period piece, admittedly, set in theLondon of 1889, but written in a decidedly modern style, with a relentless focus on the dark underbelly of seemingly respectable Victorian life, "the worm in the bud."
As you would expect of a major new series, the cast is good, with Mathew Macfadyen in the lead role as Scotland Yard's Inspector Reid. His sidekick is played by Jerome Flynn, of Robson and Jerome fame, and Adam Rothenberg plays an American doctor and pathologist who seems to spend more time in a brothel than he does in the morgue.
A woman is found horribly murdered, and everyone assumes that Jack the Ripper is at work again. However,Reid has other ideas and his enquiiries lead him to a respectable house in the suburbs where the victim's husband narrowly escapes being hanged in an attempt at murder disguised as suicide. Clues that the husband reluctantly yields lead to the uncovering of a sinister and sadistic conspiracy.
Despite its gruesome and sadistic elements, and my feeling that writers who set crime stories in Victorian times too often feel the need to introduce a graphic sexual component, as if to compensate for the prudishness of Victorian crime fiction itself, I thought episode one represented a pretty good start for Ripper Street. One weakness was the limited characterisation of the bad guy - a mistake, I felt. Other than that, the story was soundly written, and the acting very good. But I hope that the Jack the Ripper references don't multiply in later episodes, since the original Whitechapel crimes, for all their undoubted massive significance, have to be the most over-referenced murders in the history of true crime.