Ripper Street - Series 1 & 2 Box Set [Blu-ray]
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The first two series of the TV drama starring Matthew Macfadyen as a detective trying to maintain the law on the streets of Whitechapel in the wake of the Jack the Ripper murders. Though the immediate threat posed by the Ripper seems to have receded, H Division's Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Macfadyen), aided by the hard-boiled Sergeant Bennett Drake (Jerome Flynn) and American forensics expert Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), still has his hands full trying to keep the East End streets safe. Series 1 episodes are: 'I Need Light', 'In My Protection', 'The King Came Calling', 'The Good of This City', 'The Weight of One Man's Heart', 'Tournament of Shadows', 'A Man of My Company' and 'What Use Our Work?'. Series 2 episodes are: 'Pure As the Driven', 'Am I Not Monstrous?', 'Become Man', 'Dynamite and a Woman', 'Threads of Silk and Gold', 'A Stronger Loving World', 'Our Betrayal: Part One' and 'Our Betrayal: Part Two'.
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This drama delves into an age (the late 1800s) rarely covered by the BBC so, whilst the episode storylines never really struck me as THAT intriguing, along with the quality production-values/presentation the delicious 'period' dialogue and, especially, the outstanding acting performances of the lead cast made it something really quite special.
HOWEVER, I can only review series 1 to 3 on Blu-ray as I didn't buy the later series as firstly, I was baffled how a continuation could properly exist as I thought that most of the significant aspects came to such a clear, satisfactory resolution in series 3. Secondly, I nonetheless then watched in HD the broadcasts of Series 4 (late last year) and found the screenplay to be a sorry, VERY pale shadow of what had already passed - so much so that I almost couldn't continue watching it. Series 5 re-gained some of the familiar/pleasing 'ground' from Series 1-3 but, for me, still fell woefully short.
My feelings about how this programme 'evolved' are supported by highlighting the production history, since the BBC (wrongly IMHO) cancelled the programme after series 2 due to viewing figures dropping from around 8million to 3 million BUT 'Amazon Prime Instant Video' took over, if for no other reason one would hope that a 3rd series at the very least was necessary to 'tie things up'.
However, series 3 seemingly provoked increased viewing figures so 'Amazon Prime Instant Video' then produced series 4, later deciding to expand/split it to make series 4 and 5; this tells a story and, having subsequently learned these facts, helps to explain even more my dissatisfaction with those last 2 series.....
It is so tricky to describe the over-arching theme of 'Ripper Street' since it would be revelationary and spoil things for first-timers, BUT with the caveat that it essentially misses the crucial elements (perhaps for the revealing issue I mentioned ?) the disc box for Series 1 (NOT the Amazon synopsis) has a good stab at doing it, so here it is :
"Haunted by the failure to catch Londonʼs most evil killer, Jack the Ripper, Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) now heads up the notorious H Division – the toughest police district in the East End.
Charged with keeping order in the blood-stained streets of Whitechapel, Reid and his men find themselves fighting to uphold justice and the rule of law; but always in the background lurks the fear of the Ripper – is he back for another reign of terror.
The shadow of the Ripper is still felt in the neighbourhood by the vigilantes, the sensation-seeking newspaper hacks and the men who hunted – and failed to find – the notorious murderer. It seems that even though the notorious killer has disappeared, there are plenty more willing to stain the streets of Whitechapel with their victims’ blood..."
However, due to my earlier caveat I need to add immediately that one shouldn't be dissuaded by the 'Ripper' element of the programme title nor the way it prevails in the above description.
That's because, as hinted at, for me the MUCH more crucial story element is the specifics and what surrounds the relationships (in every sense of the word) between the lead characters and their related personal issues,,,.
Those aspects are the driving force for the series and the underlying current within each episode - so much so that the often derivative, occasionally rather bland/often forgettable 'crimes' which might headline a particular episode are the 'garnish' to the main meal of the characterisations and their progress throughout the entirety of all the programmes series; I rarely felt challenged or captivated by any 'whodunnit' aspect of the plot....
- and that is exactly how it should be, since the delicious period-dialogue and (above all) those lead acting performances are supreme.
I must also add now that the production-values are similarly superior and that there is a notable musical soundtrack, emphasised by the fantastic and, for me, striking opening-credits images and infectious/addictive score; short it might be, but it instils great emotion in me whenever it plays and (usually) is the pre-cursor to a subsequent positive viewing experience. Having said that, again on the theme of cancellation and 'those' series 4 and 5, it is perhaps not surprising that they also differ from series 1-3 by virtue of the opening-credits score being different; pertinently AGAIN, I should point out that closing credits to the very last episode of series 5 play out with that 'original.opening-credits score (the score is usually unique to the episode), in homage to better times IMHO - a small point perhaps, but it is for me significant....
Violence and criminal fatalities are copious, largely dictating the need for a '15' viewing certificate for 'strong bloody violence, gore and sexualised nudity' - this programme is not for the squeamish, BUT bad language is absent !
Matthew Macfadyen in the lead role is, as expected from earlier roles, quite superb throughout - his dominance is almost matched by the revelation of Jerome Flynn (for me, not before seen), who similarly acts his socks off. Adam Rothenburg and MyAnna Buring are also excellent, but Macfadyen and Flynn particularly excel in the smaller aspects of their performances, with easily-missed significant nuances to their voices and expressions, but especially small physical acts (eg nervous twitches, blink and you'll miss them !) to portray the vivid, striking and fully-rounded characters they play.
The presence of Macfadyen and Flynn, and the quality of their contributions, is the single, MASSIVE foundation stone to 'Ripper Street' - and they are so essential since it is (unarguably) the relationship between their characters that similarly drives the core of 'Ripper Street'; they are something to behold....
The first series obviously has to introduce the characters to us, but a slightly unnerving detail of the storylines is how subtlety the 'Ripper' aspects are revealed - it soon should become apparent how little this series really has to do with 'Ripper' matters...Series 1 makes more effort to have themes associated with real historical events occurring in London at that time.
The second series very quickly introduces a significant new character to us, in the shape of Detective Inspector Jedediah Shine - who commands the nearby 'K' division. His presence in series 2 becomes more prominent as time passes, but I never really saw why his character existed other than to present us with a 'hate' figure, who's actions are regularly extreme and lack some credibility; similarly, the actions of one of the main characters also stretched credibiity. The Jerome Flynn character also becomes more prominent, and the 'Ripper' aspects are almost non-existent. Series 2 makes less effort to have themes associated with real historical events occurring in London at that time than in series 1.
Whilst those production-values might be very good, it cannot go unnoticed that much reliance is made of quality CGI to add background to the relatively small but excellent period sets; those plus the dialogue and costumes are the final ingredients added to the existing quality of the acting, screenplay and music to make 'Ripper Street' so successful for me.
For both series everything is wonderfully sharp and richly portrayed on Blu-ray; the sound is also very well presented, with a lot of use made of the spatial capabilities of the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack to broadcast off-screen sounds for example.
So, whilst the individual episode plots might feature often rather uninteresting details the overriding and substantially more captivating feature of them, and the series overall is the main characters, how they interact and their relationships/personal issues. Those aspects are portrayed in exemplary fashion, in no small part because of the intricate period-dialogue but more so due to the quite excellent acting performances. Add very convincing production-values, notably the costumes and set-dressing, and an often rousing musical soundtrack - all presented marvellously on Blu-ray, and it's hopefully clear why I enjoyed this superior BBC drama so much.
This first series is probably the best of the first 3 since it is by definition 'fresher', but also because the episode plots have less 'association' with the main characters.
The second series is slightly less satisfying than the first, for me largely due to the introduction of the non-sensical Detective Inspector Shine character plus the episode-specific plots have more 'association' with the main characters.
My only recommendation is to stop watching at series 3, by which time my recommendation should make more sense....
Firstly, you have Series 1; which is set in 1889 directly following the murders of Jack the Ripper and the police investigation. We see the police facing two battles: their new cases and trying trying to pick themselves us and gain respect after failing to catch the Ripper. There are some excellent storylines presented in this series and the different themes, as well as Ripper, that run through the series create an excellent, and intriguing historically accurate drama. Themes include pornography, the film industry, disease and Victorian transportation. All these different themes allow for some excellent storylines to be be built up and make the series of crimes even more convincing!
I think that Series 2 is even better than Series 1 (and that is hard), as because as well as Ripper and the previous themes it is introducing new key ideas and themes (all of which are historically accurate); including the attitudes towards the Irish, homosexuality and the fight for female equality (the rise of the early suffragette movement). All of this has really allowed the programme to move forward and therefore has ensured that the programme has not become dry. As well as the amazing plot and storyline the show is helped by having an amazing cast list, including Matthew McFayden who convincingly plays D.I Reid - he shows the character as upstanding and respectable while also allowing his darker side to lay mysteriously in the background (for example his portrayal of his adultery and his blaming for the disappearance of his daughter and subsequent mental breakdown of his wife).
Overall, I think that this series is excellent - and the combination of excellent context, scripts and acting has created a real winner. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys crime thrillers or enjoys seeing history come alive. Plus, if you get this boxset, there are some excellent special features including behind the scenes features! I'm hoping there is a lot more of the show, in its current fashion, to come.
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