The Weekend's Viewing: A stock population of peelers, toffs and prostitutes tell us nothing new about the Ripper's London
Ripper Street, Sun, BBC1 // The Hotel, Sun, Channel 4
Ripper Street, a little ironically given the naked opportunism with which it exploits the allure of Whitechapel's most notorious killer, is based around a Victorian detective inspector who's sick to death of Jack the Ripper.
"I would have obsession blinker us to the wider world no longer," says DI Reid angrily at the end of the first episode, addressing himself to Chief Inspector Abberline (the real-life detective who investigated the Whitechapel murders) and a tabloid journalist who has found the Ripper very good for trade. So good, in fact, that he isn't above touching up a new crime scene to make it look more like the latest instalment of the Ripper's savage part-work. Both men see the Ripper in everything, which makes life difficult for Inspector Reid, who thinks that there's quite enough evil to be going on with without amplifying the legend of one particular demon.
Richard Warlow's series began with the indispensable components of a Victorian East End drama: gas light, cobbled streets crowded with prostitutes and drunks, wisps of a London peculiar adding to the atmosphere. Rather implausibly, a group of genteel tourists were being guided through the fetid alleyways, visiting the scenes of the Ripper's previous murders and, eventually, stumbling over what appeared to be his latest. Call for Inspector Reid (played by Matthew MacFadyen), who was hauled away from a nearby bare-knuckle fight, where his doughty Detective Sergeant Drake had gone undercover as a crooked pugilist. And call, too, for Reid's sidekick, Captain Jackson, an American visitor who we first saw pulling his head from between the thighs of a bemused tart, who appeared unused to such transatlantic erotic novelties. Both men have troubled relationships with the women in their life, and offered hints of a past that will presumably be revealed with strip-tease gradualness.
Captain Jackson did the Sherlock Holmes proto-CSI stuff, establishing that the dead woman had been strangled and mutilated to look like the Ripper's victim. From the callus on her collarbone, he guessed she was a fiddle player, and from the soot in her hair, that she'd travelled on the new underground line. And when the pair followed up the case of a missing violinist from Finchley, they found themselves stumbling into the world of Victorian porn. There were light traces of historical research: Warlow has looked through some glossaries of Victorian criminal slang and there was an intriguing moment when we found Reid looking at an Eadweard Muybridge pamphlet on Animal Locomotion, as if he had an early interest in the very technology that presents him to us. But the series seems less interested in what people don't already know about 19th-century London than in what they already do. One day, someone will really quarry into Mayhew and give us something other than the stock population of peelers, toffs and prostitutes. But it doesn't look as if it's happened yet.
The Hotel is back – and Mark, the beleaguered owner of the Grosvenor in Torquay, has had the terrible idea of going upmarket. The occasional similarity between this series opener and a famous episode of Fawlty Towers did raise the odd doubt about how exactly unadulterated an account this is. But, allowing for the self-amplification that inevitably occurs when people find that they've become identifiable television characters, it feels authentic. I fear that Mark may not find "Guardian readers" (where he placed his first ad) quite as eager to share their private moments with the country as his current guests. But he'll need to do something soon. The Magic Ball he and Christian had organised to drum up extra business had been so incompetently costed that they lost three pounds a head on every satisfied customer. Christian carefully explained to the chef that it was supposed to be a loss leader. Part one of the plan worked, anyway.
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