I love mysteries. Have ever since I can remember. As a child, I was rather mediocre and simply read Nancy Drew mysteries and The Baby-Sitters Club Mysteries and Super-Mysteries. While I still read mysteries today, I prefer to watch them, and in fact, most TV I watch falls mainly in the crime genre (except for The Big Bang Theory. That’s like a class all of it’s own.)
I also really like British telly. I mean, I really like British telly. (I am an Anglophile.) So I thought, why not review Whitechapel? I don’t think I know of anyone else who has watched this, but I thought it was fascinating.
So without further ado…
Title: ITV’s Whitchapel
Country: Great Britain
Series 1, 2009
Detective Inspector Joe Chandler is rising in the world. Mentored by Commander Anderson, his life is easy and perfect. He’s assigned to investigate one murder in London’s Whitechapel.
Easier said than done.
A serial killer is loose on the streets, and Chandler begins to realize that a second Jack the Ripper is stalking Whitechapel.
They couldn’t catch the Ripper 120 years ago, can they capture his copycat today?
“Welcome to hell, gentlemen.”
Rupert Penry-Jones as DI Chandler
Phil Davis as DS Miles
Steve Pemberton as Edward Buchan
Alex Jennings as Commander Anderson
Claire Rushbrook as Dr. Llewellyn
George Rossi as DC McCormack
Christopher Fulford as DC Fitzgerald
Johnny Harris as DC Sanders
Sam Stockman as DC Kent
In the very early morning of August 31, 2008, police officer Mary Bousefield is returning home after dealing with rowdy hooligans and a burning building when she hears something in the dark. She finds Cathy Lane, her throat slashed and her skirt pulled up, drowning in her own blood. As she radios in for help, a door slams; Bousefield looks behind her and sees a tall man with a knife watching her. He walks away and disappears into the night.
Interspersed with this opening, we meet Detective Inspector Joe Chandler, who is being groomed by his friend, mentor, and father-figure, Commander Anderson. Chandler is an excellent detective in theory only. Anderson informs him of the murder of Cathy Lane in Whitechapel and believes it will be an easy case for Chandler to prove his worth.
Unfortunately for Chandler, the team he’s been given – DS Miles, and DCs Kent, McCormack, Sanders, and Fitzgerald – are not eager to follow him. In fact, they look at him as a kid to humor and babysit while they do the work. Chandler is keen to be involved and throws himself into the job, even though his stomach is not always up for it.
As she begins the autopsy, Dr. Llewellyn is shocked to discover that Cathy Lane wasn’t raped as the police originally assumed from the state in which she was found but was instead gutted like an animal.
Ripperologist Edward Buchan offers his services as he believes that the murder of Cathy Lane is a copy of Jack the Ripper’s first victim, Mary Ann Nichols, who was killed on August 31, 1888.
Miles dismisses Buchan, but Chandler finds his theory intriguing.
If the murders are by a Ripper copycat, there will be four more over the next four months.
It appears Jack the Ripper is back, and Commander Anderson doesn’t want the press to know. Chandler and Miles agree, but that doesn’t stop the prostitutes from finding out. They’re terrified, and one confides in Miles that a client, a soldier, has been violent with some of the girls. Unfortunately, the soldier isn’t talking, and since they have no sufficient evidence to charge him, he’s set free just as the press get wind of the investigation: there’s a mole in the team, and Miles is set on finding out who it is.
September 30 is approaching, and the detectives are running out of time. On this date in 1888, Jack the Ripper murdered two victims – Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes – within the space of one hour, and now the world is watching to see if Chandler can stop history from repeating itself.
Miles becomes suspicious of Buchan’s interest in the case, especially when it’s discovered that he may have been in contact with the killer.
And then of course there’s the infamous Letter From Hell.
The police have failed, the public is terrified, and the anniversary of the last Ripper murder of Mary Jane Kelley is fast approaching.
Will they “solve the unsolvable and catch the most famous serial killer of all time?”
Call me a freak, I find the Jack the Ripper case fascinating, and the fact that the Ripper was never caught adds to the horror. Whitechapel is a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat miniseries. The acting is great, the cinematography is spellbinding, and whoever was doing the sound editing deserves an award.
In fact, let’s talk about that last for a second. There are several moments in this series where sound is used to emphasize the horror and despair of the story.
Episode 1: When Mary Bousefield finds Cathy Lane, the woman has not yet died, and instead of showing the audience the full image of her mutilated body, the show simply gives us the sound of her dying.
Episode 2: Chandler argues with Anderson as the commander is dining at a rather posh restaurant. While Chandler explains how the killer has taken the kidney of one of the victims, the scene shows close ups of knives cutting into steaks. The sound is once again elevated.
Episode 3: As Chandler reads the second Ripper’s Letter From Hell and reveals what happened to the kidney, the sound editor again emphasizes the sounds of meat being cut.
It’s grotesque and gets the point across.
The cinematography is great. I don’t like gory films very much, so I appreciated that when a body is shown, the shot is done in such a way that we do not see all of it. There are either actors positioned carefully around the body, or the body is out of focus in the background. This not only allows viewers with overactive imaginations (such as yours truly) to sleep well at night, but it also provides an air of mystery.
As for the actors, most of the weight lies with the main three: Penry-Jones, Davis, and Pemberton.
Rupert Penry-Jones has created a very meticulous detective. Chandler looks the part, he sounds the part – heck, he probably even smells the part, but his inexperience reveals him to be almost childlike. Chandler is struggling not only to catch Jack the Ripper, but to also prove himself to both his superiors, who want to put him behind a desk somewhere, and his inferiors, who can’t respect him.
Phil Davis is good at playing the veteran cop. He’s tough, he’s cranky, and he doesn’t like taking orders, especially from someone like Chandler. He’s devoted to the job, though, and although he and Chandler clash at almost every turn, there’s an eventual hard-earned respect between the two.
Steve Pemberton plays the perfect fanboy. He’s there for source material as well as for a link to the audience. As he tells Chandler, he’s the Watson to Chandler’s Holmes, and in a way he is. He’s not a cop, and he’s very much seduced by the romanticized image of the detective. He wants to be part of the story, but the horror of what is happening is not obvious to him. At least, not right away.
4 out of 5 stars
1 star – Avoid
2 stars – Weak
3 stars – Amusing but don’t bother with a repeat
4 stars – Very Entertaining
5 stars – Buy the DVD and watch it over and over again.
I’d give it a PG-13 rating. Obviously there’s gore and violence, but not much language and no sexual activity. Any nudity is limited to the cadavers lying on Dr. Llewellyn’s table in the morgue.