Friday, May 1, 2015

Ripper Street: A mystery deepens

McClatchy Washington BureauApril 30, 2015

Creator and writer Richard Warlow always thought the strongest part of the Victorian murder drama Ripper Street was its characters.

So when the show was given an unexpected eight-episode reprieve for a third season, he decided to concentrate on their inner dramas. The new season started at 10 p.m. Wednesday on BBC America.

The first season was set in the aftermath of Jack the Ripper killings in London's Whitechapel, but now it's 1894, and the murders have receded in the memories of most people — except the haunted, brittle Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) who commands H Division.

Reid was shattered by the death of his wife and the loss of his beloved daughter. The powerful leader has withdrawn into himself and his newly created forensic library.

Warlow says that, in the beginning, Reid is fragile. "Over the course of the series, we put him (Reid) back together."

The other two who worked with him in Whitechapel also have moved on. Reid's main assistant, Detective Constable Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn), escaped to Manchester to start a new life, and he has risen to become an inspector. The American doctor, Homer Jackson, (Adam Rothenberg) has become a cheap surgeon, pickled in liquor and steeped in unhappiness.

Warlow elevated Jackson's ex-wife, the former brothel mistress Long Sue Hart (MyAnna Buring), to a level on par with the male characters. It's her actions and struggles that help drive the major plot.

Warlow was happy to find in his historical research that he could write Hart as such a strong, independent woman. He says it was a way to "kind of delve much deeper in the gender debates of the time, I suppose."

"You're getting to what you'd call the pre-Suffragette movement. I'm glad to find that one could write about those things without it being forced or anachronistic in any way."

The first show starts with Drake coming back to London to take up a new position in Whitechapel. A train wreck cascades disaster down on the streets. Over the season, the reasons behind the accident are revealed. Jackson's forensics begin to solve the mystery as do old-fashioned policing on the part of Reid, Drake and reporter Fred Best (David Dawson.)

Warlow said he enjoys writing historical drama. He uses the backdrop of Victorian society, from the gritty depth of working-class Whitechapel to the highest levels of the aristocracy and their need for new entertainments, to play out the dramas of his characters.

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