18 August, 2013
In the year 1889, on the mean streets of London's Whitechapel district, about 70,000 people are crammed into little more than a square mile under the watchful eye of Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, played by Matthew Macfadyen.
This is Jack the Ripper territory, but Jack himself - the notorious serial killer who haunted the East End of London and became famous for a series of fiendish murders - has faded into memory. In his wake sits a bustling culture of decadence and extravagance.
Jack's spectre, nonetheless, looms large over the district, and the television series Ripper Street. ''They never found him, so it became a story that could go on forever,'' Macfadyen says. ''Was he a doctor? An aristocrat? We may never know.
''And they were revolting crimes. The east end was a rough and scary place at the time, and the story was whipped up by the tabloids; it captured people's imaginations at the time.''
Ripper Street is not a Jack the Ripper story per se. But that famous crime looms large over Reid and the officers of Whitechapel H Division - Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) and Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) - as they deal with other crimes in the district.
In a Victorian London during the industrial age, Ripper Street becomes something more sophisticated: a crime drama with forensic touches, set in a world where forensics was in its infancy.
''That's what I found so fascinating,'' Macfadyen says, easing back in a large leather armchair in a small office in London. ''I saw my character as a very modern man, a very forward-thinking man. I think he's fascinated by new ideas and new ways of looking at things.
''In a sense, in that world, they were bumbling around. Fingerprints were some time away. But the whole Victorian era was right on the verge of enormous discoveries in science and engineering.'' The series is a co-production between the BBC and its American arm, BBC America.
Macfadyen says he was drawn to the project by the pedigree of the talent working on it: writers Richard Warlow, Julie Rutterford, Declan Croghan and Toby Finlay and directors Andy Wilson, Colm McCarthy and Tom Shankland. ''Everything seemed to align with this,'' he tells The Sun-Herald.
''I'd had a funny year the year before and I did [the film] Anna Karenina at the end of that year, and I was longing for a bit of continuity.