Thursday, 13 January 2011

Review of 'Jack the Ripper: The Definitive Story' Part 1

This 2-part 'docu-drama' employs state-of-the-art CGI and actor recreations to take the viewer into the "slum landscape" of the Victorian East End of London, a virtual Ripper tour "shrouded in myth". The "most famous, most iconic serial killer in history" is investigated here by utilising the contemporary police reports, witness statements, maps, and photographs, to reconstruct Whitechapel itself, and is promoted as the "definitive story" of Jack the Ripper.
As with previous Ripper documentaries, many varied 'talking head' experts are featured: Ripperologists Richard Jones, Neil Sheldon, and Donald Rumbelow; internet moderator Robert Anderson; authors Gareth Williams and John Bennett; tour guide Lindsay Sivitar; police historian Neil Bell; and Bill Beadle of the Whitechapel Society.
Part one (broadcast January 11th on Five) starts with the (non-canonical) murders of Emma Smith (in April 1888) and Martha Tabram. With the killing of Polly Nichols at Bucks Row, the deaths were now connected by the newspapers. When Annie Chapman was slain at Hanbury Street, the discovery of a leather apron was seized upon by an angry press, which only fed anti-semitic tensions.
The programme states that the crimes were committed with "increased fury" by a "classic disorganised" killer, soon christened 'Jack the Ripper' when the Central News Agency received the 'Dear Boss' letter.
In the lead-up to Liz Stride's murder at Berner Street, Donald Swanson's account of the Israel Schwartz/'Lipski' incident is recreated, and the 'Double Event' is further explored in part 2, with Mary Kelly's slaying, and the inevitable study of the Ripper suspects.
The CGI reconstructions are basic, but effective, and add a new dimension (literally) to an oft-told story, and emphasise the importance of geography in crime fighting. The entire programme though is dogged by wooden 'am-dram' acting. The next installment is screened next Thursday, January 20th on Five.

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