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Whitechapel (DVD Review)

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

WHITECHAPEL stars Rupert Penry-Jones as Joseph Chandler, a socially inept but talented fast-track detective inspector whose first murder investigation quickly turns into a hunt for a serial killer. And to Chandler’s dismay, it soon becomes apparent that he’s dealing with a Jack the Ripper copycat killer.

Complicating matters is Chandler’s team of detectives, whose allegiance to their immediate superior DS Miles (Phil Davis) causes considerable friction, not least because the abrasive Miles is very much of the old school and clearly resents the ideas and methods of his new boss.

Indeed, I’d go so far as to say he openly derides them. How good then, to see the smirk wiped off Miles’ face when Chandler’s theory is proved right.

Of course, it’s all been done before. You might even say it’s old rope with new window dressing. And you would be right. But because Jack the Ripper has been reinvented for the 21st Century, it has a magnetic appeal. Moreover, it’s well played out by the principals, whose characters are as different as proverbial chalk and cheese.

Penry-Jones, described in one national newspaper as “the housewive’s totty” (and who am I to argue?), cuts a dashing figure in his immaculately styled wardrobe but there all similarity to his intrepid hero persona of The 39 Steps and Burn Up ends.

Undermined by the seemingly case-hardened Miles, his air of vulnerability is underlined by traits of obsessive compulsive disorder. While Davis perfectly captures the essence of a man whose sensitive side is hidden beneath an outward show of bravado.

Also worthy of mention is Steve Pemberton (The League of Gentlemen) whose character, Edward Buchan, is a Ripperologist, and who offers Chandler his services after sussing out the Ripper link for himself. Pemberton plays him with deliberate theatricality, hamming it up to great effect on his Ripper tours of Whitechapel, and thereby lightening the mood of this otherwise sombre piece.

The question throughout is: will this present day team, with its cutting-edge technology, be able to do what its forebears couldn’t – namely catch the killer? For those of you who haven’t yet seen Whitechapel I’ll say only that the gripping climax is played out with all the spirit and flair that we’ve come to expect of the murder/mystery genre. As for the killer’s identity or indeed capture, that’s for you to find out.

Of course, much is known about the Ripper’s routines and methods so the reconstructed murders are necessarily gruesome. That said, we’re offered only relatively fleeting glimpses of his handiwork (no more, in fact, than is meted out on a regular basis in the three CSI franchises) – the rest is left to the imagination. However, viewers of a nervous disposition, may find it disturbing.

One of the criticisms levelled at Whitechapel is its improbability. I just hope that’s right. But whatever, it was made to entertain and that it most certainly does. So take it for what it is and you won’t be disappointed.

Read our review of the pilot episode

Certificate: 15
Running time: 180mins
UK DVD Release: February 16, 2009