Jack the Ripper is certainly one historical character that has captured the imagination of not only the printed word but also the medium of television and film. Countless books have been written from simple studies of the killings, modern day investigations and even the alleged diary of ‘Saucy Jack’. Film and TV have brought us such diverse adaptions to varying success and quality starring the likes of Michael Caine, Johnny Depp, David Warner and Klaus Kinski. Now we have a modern day version starring Spooks‘ Rupert Penry Jones and one of my favourite actors, Phil Davis.
Now this retelling isn’t actually Jack but a copycat who is copying the murders down to the closest detail and killing the women at the nearest possible spot to the original murders. The three part thriller has just finished its run on ITV and has been averaging around 7-8 million viewers (pretty impressive in this age of multi channel television). Now, is it any good?
Detective Inspector Joe Chandler is on the fast track to the top of the Met. Favoured by the top men at Scotland Yard, thanks to his father, Joe is given the task of leading a simple domestic murder investigation in Whitechapel to secure another stepping stone to his cushy desk job barking orders to proper policemen. Partnered by veteran cop, DS Miles (Phil Davis), Joe brings his ‘new age’ police techniques to the old school incident room and immediately ruffles the feathers of Miles and his band of old-fashioned coppers.
Joe soon seeks the help of Ripper expert, Edward Buchan (Steve Pemberton), who points out the murders of 2008 are the same of those in 1888 with the killer using the same techniques as Jack did. Mocked by Miles, but also his superiors, Joe is convinced that someone is copying Jack and then another woman is killed.
Rupert Penry-Jones proved in Spooks that he was a good action man. Since leaving that brilliant series he has done an impressive job in the BBC remake of The 39 Steps and Whitechapel cements his claim to leading man status. Phil Davis, on the other hand, proves once again he is one of our best actors in anything he does. Recently, you may have seen him play Wilfred Bramble in BBC3’s Steptoe And Son true story adaption. Miles is literally a light year away from Bramble and Davis plays so well with Penry-Jones you would swear Whitechapel is just an episode of a long running cop show, their chemistry is that good. Pemberton as Buchan steals the entire show with his twitchy eccentric character. We all know Pemberton is a great comic actor (The League Of Gentlemen) and with Buchan he creates a character that is not only interesting but also very sad as well, due simply to his lonely passion of a hundred year old serial killer.
Filmed in and around the East End of London, I was initially worried that in the first episode we have some extremely annoying incidental music which didn’t suit the proceedings at all. Thankfully. this music didn’t stay for long and we’re then treated to a nice horror/thriller type composition for the rest of the series. The editing is very 2009 and I thought it would grate as we were inundated with shaky cam footage and double exposures. However, it somehow really suited the whole series and gave it an edgy 21st Century feel crossed with an old-fashioned 20th Century detective show. The murders are well done and, although a bit gory, the effects are nothing worse than Silent Witness or Holby City.
The real problem I have with the DVD presentation is that it keeps the show in three episodes, copying ITV’s broadcast apart from the ‘Previously on..’ section showing last week’s best bits. I would have preferred a full two-and-a-half hour film with decent end credits instead of the mundane ITV credits which are the same on everything from Coronation Street to TV Burp. Keeping it true to the original broadcast is the norm for TV DVD’s. I don’t have a problem with that, but sometimes it works better to cut the credits out and make it a long ‘film’; it works very, very well for the region 1 of Salem’s Lot. Apart from that, Whitechapel is a very worthy purchase if you didn’t catch it on TV or if you liked it; its a good DVD for the collection. I thought it was great and hope the writers put Davis and Penry-Jones together again for another story.
The only extra on the disc is a 29 minute featurette featuring interviews from the actors and production team. It’s pretty good and worth a watch, but only after you have seen the series. One final note, watch out for one of Miles’ colleagues played by George Rossi; eagle-eyed viewers will spot him from The Bill in the days of Don Beech.