An abundance of evil permeates “Ripper Street.”
The latest British crime drama on BBC America is a mixture of the grittier of Charles Dickens’ novels, bloody fisticuffs, beatings, occasionally explicit sex, profanity and Victorian-period CSI-style investigation.
Oh, and it has an American as well. He smokes a lot.
Straight-laced Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen), and his assistant Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn from “Game of Thrones”) patrol the East End of London in 1889 — a year after serial killer Jack the Ripper vanished.
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The police deal with the constant pervasive fear that the Ripper might return, as well as with prostitution, child gangs, theft and murder.
A guide leading a tour of the places where the Ripper slaughtered his victims stumbles across a dead woman whose body is mutilated a la Ripper. Terror once again grips London, aided and abetted by the questionable journalistic practices of the popular press of the period, when fear and curiosity, not facts, sold newspapers.
It comes down to: Was the woman’s killer really the Ripper or someone else?
Reid calls for help from an American, Capt. Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg), a former Pinkerton detective and a doctor. Jackson provides the forensic skills that lead to the identity of the murdered woman.
Unknown to the trusting Reid, Jackson is hiding his own secrets. Both he and his partner — a brothel mistress named Long Susan Hart (MyAnna Buring of “Downton Abbey”) — fled America with murky pasts.
“Ripper Street” comes with the usual set of competent British actors and well-sketched-out characters.
Layer after layer of period detail add a patina of history over the show. Even the double-edged sword of modern technology plays its part. Photography may be for family photos and sweethearts, for example, but it also can be used for pornography, making it easier to circulate.
Among the show’s more distinctive touches are the speech patterns that harken back to an earlier time period. Reid reproves one man’s Ripper obsession, saying, “That we cease to look for him (the Ripper) in every act of evil that crosses our path. There is an abundance of that about, and I would have obsession to blinker us to the wider world, no longer.”
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