In real life, Edmund Reid first left Whitechapel for Lambeth before retiring to Hampton-on-Sea and, when that coastal resort fell victim to erosion, moved to Hythe. Ripper Street is not real life although it has a take on both historical and emotional truth that few other TV series have come close to matching. In this world, Edmund Reid may attempt to leave Whitechapel but we know that, even as the nineteenth becomes the twentieth century and the murderous brutality of Jack and his era becomes legendary, he will be unable to do so.
The fifth and final series of Ripper Street came to Amazon Prime a month or so ago. That I haven’t written about it until now is because, to me, it reached in this last run through, an artistic height that makes simply reviewing it seem futile. You want to say, “Just watch it.” From the start. Soak in the first four series and then plunge into this compelling epilogue. Gasp at the gore, revel in the recreation of the 1890s, and let the writing, acting and direction leave you speechless.
A criticism of Ripper Street (beyond the awful title) was that the stories were too shlocky. Victorian pornographers enjoying the new found freedom of moving pictures whilst upper class twonks engaged in proto snuff movies – that sort of thing. The criticism was never valid but it became hollower and hollower over time as Ripper Street managed that neat trick of using the tropes of genre to reveal more about the time and people in question and, finally, giving depths to its central characters and their ever-changing alliances.
In the fifth series we are almost watching two separate programmes. In one there is a plot and the bad guys must be stopped. In the other we are in elegiac territory as various farewells are enacted. Even the simplest goodbye – say, nasty guy carking it whilst on drugs – has so many ways it can be seen. It’s almost trite to say this is good acting. This is good everything and it leaves you breathless.
Sometime next year this series will be on the BBC and there will be comments about the dear old beeb cocked up by first axing the programme and then allowing its resurrection to be supported elsewhere. Pah. It matters not. Celebrate this rare example of a series given that chance to be reborn that grasped it with both hands and then, rarer still, found a way of making an extended goodbye of such quality.