Our rating: 2 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Some crimes are predictable. Some crimes aren't. And some of them become notorious.
A woman has been brutally killed in Whitechapel, and the case is turned over to the ambitious young Detective Inspector Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones). His good looks and instincts for playing the game are helping him to rise swiftly in the ranks of the local police force, but when confronted with a police unit he discovers that police work is more than questioning witnesses and digging through old files. His presence is not particularly appreciated by his new colleagues and Detective Sergeant Miles (Philip Davis) casts a rather bemused eye on him. They have been solving cases in the slums for years without the assistance of a posh policeman and they don't need one now.
But that was before the details of the murder become known. She didn't just have her throat cut... she had her insides torn out. The entire case has an eerie familiarity to it and it isn't long before a local Ripperologist presents a chilling theory on the crime: a Ripper fan is recreating the infamous murder spree that terrorized Whitechapel in the 1800's. Miles and his associates scoff... they have another suspect in mind. But when all their leads turn up dead ends and more female bodies start piling up, they are forced to admit that they are up against a clever man, an evil man, a man determined to relive the bloody legacy that made Jack the Ripper infamous in the annuals of crime. And unless they can stop him, more innocent girls will die.
This series isn't bad but it isn't particularly brilliant either. It does have its strengths: an attractive and complicated leading man, a gruesome setting rampant with history, and a climax that builds into a first-rate encounter with a murderer. I'm somewhat familiar with the original case and so it was interesting to walk the streets of Whitechapel with the characters and learn further details that are not so commonly known (and most are ghastly). The directing style is also interesting; fast-paced but never distracting except when it becomes slightly redundant (sometimes flashback actions are used to make a point). The cast is solid but most of it relies on Jones and Davis, who have formed an unlikely friendship by the end. It also doesn't shy away from what a horrible job it actually is to investigate crimes -- instead of cracking jokes and standing around the body discussing the case, these detectives react: with horror, dread, or even shaking limbs. One poignant scene finds Miles informing Chandler that they all deal with it differently -- one colleague goes out to the car park and cries, another takes his kids to the park, and he retreats to the back garden to feed his fish. "Murder isn't entertainment," shouts the Ripperologist at a group of tourists.
Ironic, considering in this three-episode stint, that is precisely what it is: fascinating, gripping, dark entertainment. But like any BBC project, it comes with bad language and gore. Jesus' name is abused at least a half dozen times, along with other profanities and insults. Discussion revolves around how the Ripper has mutilated his victims' internal organs and private parts. An extended scene in the morgue finds a dead woman with her breasts in the frame and her stomach torn up. Photographs of the original crime scene also reveal upper nudity on victims. Women are found lying in pools of blood, gurgling from deep throat wounds; we watch as a woman is tackled and dragged into a bedroom, then strangled until she loses consciousness. Several people are stabbed, and we learn that a man has tried to peel a woman's face off (leaving it a bloody mess). There are a few sexual references and coworkers speculate on whether or not a man is gay based on his obsession with cleanliness. (He claims he isn't.) Half a kidney is delivered in a small brown box to a policeman's home; we see it being cut into and leaking blood all over his kitchen table. We see a woman's entrails being draped across her throat.
Good murder mysteries are hard to find. I enjoy them from time to time and this was a clever idea. But as I watched it unfold, I could not help but think that the original story is far more horrific. This is a decent attempt to revisit the most notorious killing spree in history, but also becomes a little predictable at times in its attempts to recreate events. Frankly, I prefer top hats and horse drawn carriages to police cars and cell phones, but that's just me. Either way, the events could have been handled with a bit less morbid fascination for the gruesomeness of the crimes. Did I really want to see a woman with her throat cut open breathe her last? Or watch as a hand drew intestines up across another's chest? No, I didn't. And I doubt you want to, either.