Tuesday, February 5, 2013

From Hell - Whitechapel (2009-2012)

I've been going through a spat of rediscovering television. I don't have cable so I've been able to search out things that I would have an interest in rather than turning on my TV for the sake of it. At the end of last year, I stumbled on a British detective show called Whitechapel. I was immediately drawn to it because of my lifetime fascination with Jack the Ripper. (fuck Bearenstein Bears, Ripper casebooks are the best thing to fall asleep to) Whitechapel focuses on the police force in that part of London as cases reemerge from the past. It's intelligent, creepy and most importantly human.

Rookie Dectective Inspector Joseph Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) is put in charge of a cynical and hard boiled squad of dectives in London's east end. With the first case under Chandler's watch a copycat of the Jack the Ripper murders that took place in the same place over a hundred years ago, Whitechapel creates an interesting tension between a historical mystery and a present terror. It questions our need to create stories and narratives in an apathetic time. Are we missing something because we're unwilling to let go of a unsolved mystery? Stuck between those who believe these murders are random and a Ripperologist Edward Buchan (Steve Pemberton) who's convinced that they may be able to catch the Ripper this time, Chandler is stuck between a rock and a mounting pile of dead women.

Whitechapel District circa 1888
 I went on one of the infamous Ripper Walks several years ago and while it was deeply creepy it is also a fascinating example of the evolution of a city. At the turn of the 20th century, Whitechapel was the slummiest slum that ever slummed nowadays the price of homes in the area makes me light headed. As a television series Whitechapel merges the dark past with its new shiny exterior which in turn forces the police to reasses everything they know and suspect.

Initially it is Miles (Phil Davies) a hardened detective on that leads the insurrection against Chandler, believing he doesn't know what the job actually entails. “Every time there’s a stabbing in Whitechapel they come crawling out of the woodwork,” Miles says. “I hate Ripperologists.” While frantically trying to solve the murders as they unfold in the same timeline as a hundred years ago the tensions within the squad build until Chandler finally admonishes his team with “haven’t you heard of showers?” he yells at his tormenters, who are slobs. “Or irons?” Then he adds: “Get yourselves organized. Self-discipline. Self-respect. Deodorant.” I don't think you can have moments of real darkness without real levity. That's what life has and that's what Whitechapel is consistently able to find.

While we may never know who the real Jack the Ripper does, Whitechapel creates a fascinating portrait of a series of murders and the obsession they cause. Balancing atmosphere with black humour, Whitechapel is one of the best detective series out there and if you're curious and can find it here.

Ripper graffiti found in present day Whitechapel


  1. Ooooh sounds interesting...will have to check this one out. Thanks for the heads up!