Alan Waldman :
TELEVISION | ‘Whitechapel’ is a harrowing Brit cop series inspired by notorious historical crimes

Copycat killers test the mettle of Brit thesps Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis & quirky Steve Pemberton.

white chapel

From left: Davis, Penry-Jones and Pemberton

By Alan Waldman | The Rag Blog | September 6, 2015

[In his Rag Blog column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. Most are available on DVD, Netflix and/or Netflix Instant Streaming, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

Whitechapel is a British TV drama series in which detectives in London’s Whitechapel district in 2008 deal with murders which replicate historical crimes. The first series depicts the search for a modern copycat killer replicating the murders of Jack the Ripper.

Four series of 18 episodes have aired in the U.K. from 2008 to 2013, and Netflix has the first three-episode series. Here, from YouTube, is a two-part episode from Season 4: Part 1 and Part 2.

The second series focuses on killing people who knew the Kray twins, freres who terrorized London in the 1960s. The first three series were broadcast in the United States on the BBC America cable network in 2011 and 2012. In late 2013, lead actor Rupert Penry-Jones confirmed that ITV had decided not to re-commission the show.

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Historic horror meets modern investigative methods in this atmospheric crime series. When a killer mimics the murders of Jack the Ripper, a team of detectives and a loopy tour guide join forces to bring the copycat to justice.

More than 100 years ago, Jack the Ripper terrorized London’s Whitechapel district. Now, someone is painstakingly re-creating the brutal slayings. Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler leads a team charged with tracking down the modern-day ripper.

The murders are investigated by our three unlikely heroes: Chandler, a fast-tracked, media savvy Detective Inspector on his first big murder case (Penry-Jones); Miles, nearing retirement, a front-line, hard-bitten Detective Sergeant who brooks no nonsense (Philip Davis), and Buchan, the eccentrically brilliant Jack the Ripper tour guide (always-wonderful Steve Pemberton).

Whitechapel was nominated for eight major awards in 2012. At the Crime Thriller Awards it was nominated for “Best TV Drama” and Davis was up for “Best Supporting Actor.” Creators Ben Court and Caroline Ip were nominated for a 2012 Edgar Award for “Best Television Episode Teleplay” and an “Edgar” at the Edgar Allan Poe Awards. Five noms were earned at the Monte Carlo TV Festival: two for Producer Sally Woodward Gentle (later creative Director for Downton Abbey) and Outstanding Actor/Actress nods for Penry-Jones, Davis and Lydia Leonard (who played the original Ripper’s prettiest victim).

Court and Ip wrote 18 episodes and Pemberton penned a pair. Penry-Jones was nominated for three “Golden Nymph” Best Actor Awards at the Monte Carlo TV Festival and won the Crime Thriller Awards’ Best Actor “Dagger” for MI-5. His 43 credits include Woody Allen’s Match Point, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and Cambridge Spies.

Philip Davis has been nominated for 11 major awards, winning five, including three for Vera Drake and one for North Square. In 43 years he has amassed 129 film and TV credits, including Rumpole of the Bailey, Quadrophenia, Inspector Morse, Bleak House, Notes on a Scandal, Midsomer Murders,  and Sherlock. This summer alone I have enjoyed him in Mr. Holmes, Poldark, New Tricks, and Death in Paradise. He also directed Prime Suspect V. LINK

Steve Pemberton has five big nominations as a writer and actor and two British Comedy Award wins for penning Pyschoville. He was one of a quartet of wags who created and performed in the legendary comedy-horror TV series League of Gentlemen. His 48 performing credits include Mr. Bean’s Holiday, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Inspector Lewis. and Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

Laura Mackie, Director of Drama at ITV, which produced the series, said: “Whitechapel is a very modern take on the detective genre which combines the Victorian intrigue of the original case with the atmospheric backdrop of a contemporary East End of London. This is not simply about bloodthirstily recreating the Ripper murders, but rather focusing on the three main characters at the heart of the story and the black humor that binds the team together.”

In the first episode of Season 3, someone is torturing and stake-burning old ladies they consider witches, in true 17th Century style. In a later episode three friends are killed in a case which has overtones of a famous 200-year-old crime. Later Buchan identifies a killer’s modus operandi as aping the Marquis De Sade, who murdered women after poisoning them with an aphrodisiac. Then in Season 4, things start to get really weird. Killer cannibals are eating their victims to assume their power. Mmmm, think I’ll get a snack.

[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman’s articles on The Rag Blog.]

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