The Weekend's Viewing: Ripper Street wasn't all plain sailing, but I can now see why people like it
Ripper Street, Sun, BBC1 // The Hotel, Sun, Channel 4
Ripper Street has been growing on me a little, after a first impression that its version of Victorian London was a bit cut-and-paste and cardboard theatre. It's thickening up quite nicely and it's partly the plot that has done the thickening, the cornstarch of unresolved griefs, unrequited love and undisclosed secrets all doing their bit to stiffen the mixture. What's more, recent episodes have eased up on the gutting of streetwalkers – always a dubious staple in a thriller – and concentrated on different kinds of crime.
This week, it was a socialist organisation in the East End of London, not a crime at all, of course, unless you're Commissioner Monro and believe that “none of us are safe from the leftist cancer”. I'm happy to say that Detective Inspector Reid, he of the slightly spivvy suits, is nowhere near as reactionary, displaying a degree of sympathy with the local strikers that would probably get him looked at askance in today's Labour Party, let alone a Victorian police canteen. So, when an explosion destroys the office of a local activist and kills its occupant, he won't immediately swallow the conveniently obvious explanation that this is an anarchist own goal.
He's right. Mr Bloom has been stabbed before he's been incinerated. Unfortunately, Reid's pursuit of the truth leads him to bump up against the murky dealings of Special Branch who are playing a double, possibly treble game, with a member of the Russian Secret Police. A false-flag terrorist atrocity has been planned, though in the confusion I'm not sure I could confidently say whose flag was ultimately going to be planted at the scene of the crime. It isn't that kind of mechanism that's brought me round anyway, but the slow-release revelations about Inspector Reid's grief for his missing daughter, touchingly handled by Matthew Macfadyen in an episode that found time to explore the widening gap between him and his wife over whether it is worth keeping hope alive.
It wasn't all plain sailing. The final denouement unfolded with the help of one of those obliging villains who overshare during a triumphant cackle, thus giving the hero just enough of a clue to do some gallant last-minute thwarting. And the warehouse containing the crates marked “Arsenic” and the ostentatiously ticking bomb unfortunately summoned to mind that market leader in instruments of destruction, Acme Products. But I can at least now see what its growing audiences see in it.
“I think the relationship between Christian and I is slowly deteriorating,” said Mark, the hapless owner of the Grosvenor Hotel. “It's starting not to work.” It was a bit surprising to find that he believed it ever had worked, but then regular viewers of The Hotel will be inured to Mark's powers of self-delusion by now. And to Christian's limitless ability to depict himself as more sinned against than sinning. Unfortunately for Christian, there's a camera fixed to every upright surface in sight, so it's not hard to come up with evidence to contradict his sense of victimhood. He thought he was being stitched up for the rocketing costs of a competition-prize wedding that featured in this episode, but we could see the meeting in which he suggested an expensive main course that didn't even feature on the menu. And while he insisted that he'd bust a gut looking for new business at the wedding fair, we could see how much time he devoted to dragging up in a bridal gown for the final fashion parade.
It was richly funny, but the saving grace of all this voyeurism is a kind of charity in the edit, which allows you to see Christian's anxieties as well and foregrounds the affection of his colleagues. Or rather ex-colleagues, Mark having finally nerved himself up for a confrontation he should have had months ago. It's really not looking good for the Grosvenor, but it's still just as touching and engrossing to watch things going bad.
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