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Whitechapel (ITV1 - Pilot episode reviewed)

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THE THREE-part crime thriller Whitechapel, which is currently airing on ITV1, 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.

In a role far removed from the dashing hero persona of The 39 Steps, Burn Up and Krakatoa – The Last Days, Penry-Jones’ Chandler has an air of vulnerability, particuarly when confronted with the case-hardened DS Miles, played brilliantly by Phil Davis. The two men are, in fact, chalk and cheese but Chandler stands his ground (just), even though it’s patently obvious that Miles not only resents him but derides his ideas.

The immaculately groomed Chandler does, however, display traits of obsessive compulsive disorder, which doesn’t go unnoticed by his colleages, and when he orders them to clean up their act (this includes the wearing of ties) as well as personal hygiene (“This room smells”), it makes for a genuinely amusing moment when they subsequently turn up sporting outrageous ties – bringing much needed light relief to what is undeniably a dark piece.

In similar vein is Edward Buchan (Steve Pemberton), a Ripperologist who offers Chandler his services after sussing out the Ripper link for himself. Pemberton (The League of Gentlemen) plays him with deliberate theatricality, hamming it up to great effect on his Ripper tours of Whitechapel.

Filmed on location in London, often late at night, Whitechapel conveys a distinct sense of menace. Dimly lit alleys, shadowy figures, echoing footsteps and piercing screams all add to the unfolding drama which, though set in the 21st century, is eerily reminiscent of the terrible events that actually took place 120 years ago.

In the first episode, two murders are committed, both identical to those perpetrated by the Ripper. And they’re not pretty. In 1888, the man known as Jack the Ripper killed at least five women in east London, usually by slitting their throats. But not content with that, he also mutilated them – by disembowelling or removing body parts. However, what Whitechapel shows us is only a fleeting glimpse of the killer’s handiwork. The rest is left to suggestion.

This promises to be a riveting series, not least because of our fascination with Jack the Ripper. Call it morbid curiosity if you like. But whether this modern day team with all its state of the art technology gets its man, remains to be seen. To find out, you’ll have to keep watching.