Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns (BBC Worldwide Americas, NR)

 

dvd whitechapel2Whitechapel stays within the expected confines of its genre, but it’s unusually well done.

 

 

 

Someone is murdering women in Whitechapel, an inner district of London. Not just murdering them, but mutilating them, as well: Victims are nearly decapitated, and their internal organs removed (“gutted,” in the words of a police pathologist). Even creepier, the murderer carries out these deeds in a densely populated area, sometimes right under the noses of the police. It’s enough to make you believe there’s something supernatural going on, and it certainly doesn’t help that the crimes mirror those of the legendary Jack the Ripper, who “practiced” in the same area 120 years earlier.

Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns is a mystery story of the police procedural variety with no stinting on the gory details but, as is true with many classic mysteries, it’s also a character study. Three roles are central to the story: a mismatched pair of policemen assigned to work together, and an oddball with an unusual fascination with the original Jack the Ripper. Detective Inspector Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) is put in charge of the case, which is meant to provide a bit of practical experience on his way up the administrative ladder. Handsome as a matinee idol, he’s clearly from a higher social class than the other policemen he works with, and is so fastidious in his manners and dress that the men think he’s gay. Detective Sergeant Ray Miles (Phil Davis) has all the experienceChandler lacks and is not delighted at being bossed by someone more at home at a desk than on the beat. Edward Buchan (Steve Pemberton) gives “Jack the Ripper” tours and hawks his self-published book, the product of years of research into the crimes.

Buchan believes the contemporary murders are a deliberate re-enactment of the Ripper’s five “canonical” murders, and while the police originally regard this as a flight of fancy, his detailed descriptions of the crime scenes, including details not made public, are enough to at least make them pay attention. Could Buchan actually be the murderer? And if not, can they afford to ignore his information, which predicts when and how the next murder will take place?

Whitechapel stays within the expected confines of its genre, but it’s unusually well done. There are traces of artiness in the cinematography (rapid-fire still images and pans, self-conscious lighting in the many night scenes), but also more attention to details like the color palette than you usually see in television series. Add in some great acting from a reliable veteran cast and location shooting in London, and the result is a highly enjoyable show, even if you don’t consider yourself a “Ripperologist” obsessed with the gruesome details of the original murders.

Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns consists of 3 episodes (136 minutes total), plus a 29-minute feature which is surprisingly informative about the creative decisions that went into making the show. | Sarah Boslaugh

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