TV REVIEW: Ripper Street - Tournament of Shadows


This week's pseudo-historical tickbox is the dock workers strike of 1889, giving us a chance to see our intrepid bowler-hatted heroes take on the British government, Russian spies and Jewish anarchists. There's lots of fighting The Man this week, whether that's the anarchist revolutionaries railing against an unfair system or Reid fighting against his superiors or Special Branch. 

Once again, we don't actually go into any of the interesting stuff like the rise of Communism or the working conditions that the dockers faced, the impact of massive Jewish immigration or the anti-Semitism that permeated the culture. No, instead we get far-flung conspiracy theories of shady government operatives and corrupt double agents. 

There's also a really hamfisted attempt to cram some Marxist language in there with words like 'commodity' thrown around, just to add some legitimacy to the historical setting. That, however, is not enough. It's like E.L. James going on about a 'subconscious' and then trying to claim Fifty Shades of Grey is an elegant psychoanalytic reading of sado-masochism. A couple of references does not relevant context make. 

I find it difficult to watch something that has such little care for its context other than as a dramatic device. It feels like lazy writing, something which I feel this series has been guilty of right from calling it Ripper Street to entice viewers in and then having pretty much bugger all to do with Jack the Ripper. It's lazy and insulting to its audience.

Tournament of Shadows also sees a weird genre mash-up this week whereby we seem to have entered into a weird espionage thriller that mashes the terrorism fears of our modern society with the usual period drama. It's completely bonkers. I'm not saying historical accuracy is a must for either of these points, but at least try and make it relevant to the time period you've chosen to set it in.

It's still all very well-performed and I've even warmed to Adam Rothenburg's Captain Jackson, despite him very much fulfilling the token 'rogue cop' role. Matthew MacFadyen again deals well with the dark and tortured side of his character, although I wasn't quite sure what making out with the widow was all about. His pleading scene with his wife, however, was one of the only times I've felt emotionally moved by what I've seen onscreen, so points for that. Also, how many times does poor Jerome Flynn get whacked in the face in this series? I'm sure every episode has seen his cheek or forehead get split, or his eye blackened. He must be aching to get back to Westeros.

But I still maintain that this is just a distinctly ordinary police procedural, that just happens to be in fancy dress.

- Becky

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