None of this has stopped a great deal of continuing speculation on cinema and tv screens. There are a number of straight tellings of the Jack the Ripper case that include The Lodger (1944), Room to Let (1950), Man in the Attic (1953), Jack the Ripper (1959), the Spanish Jack the Ripper of London (1971) with Paul Naschy, Jess Francos Jack the Ripper (1976) with Klaus Kinski, Jack the Ripper (tv mini-series, 1988) starring Michael Caine, The Ripper (1997) and the Alan Moore graphic novel adaptation From Hell (2001) with Johnny Depp. What is notable among most of these is their lack of focus on the basic facts of the case and their dealing instead with some of the more fanciful and way-out Ripper theories like the absurd Prince Albert Victor and Royal Freemason Conspiracy theories (something the mini-series here appropriately calls the biggest load of bunkum to ever taint Ripperology) or invented suspects. More prevalent have been speculative treatments, including the likes of:- having the contemporary but fictional figure of Sherlock Holmes solve the mystery in A Study in Terror (1965) and Murder By Decree (1979); the Ripper being an alien spirit that possesses Scotty in Star Treks Wolf in the Fold (1966) and with similar stories occurring in episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-5) and The Outer Limits (1995-2002); the Ripper being Dr Jekyll in both Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) and Edge of Sanity (1989); Jack the Rippers daughter featuring in Hands of the Ripper (1971); H.G. Wells and the Ripper travelling through time to the present day in Time After Time (1979), as well as a time-travelling Ripper appearing in episodes of tv series like Fantasy Island (1977-84), Goodnight Sweetheart (1993-9) and Timecop (1997-8); The Ripper having travelled out West in the Knife in the Darkness (1968) episode of the Western Cimarron Strip (1967-8);The Ripper being resurrected or copycated in the present day in The Ripper (1985), Bridge Across Time (tv movie, 1986), Jacks Back (1988), Ripper: Letter from Hell (2001), Bad Karma (2002), The Legend of Bloody Jack (2007) and The Lodger (2009); a parody segment of Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) that speculates that the Ripper was in fact the Loch Ness Monster; the Babylon 5 episode Comes the Inquisitor (1995) that reveals the Ripper was taken up by aliens and redeemed; even turning up as a character in the French animated film Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (2013). Also of interest is the tv series Ripper Street (2012 ), a detective series set in London in the immediate aftermath of the Ripper killings.
Whitechapel offers up a fascinating modern interpretation. It becomes in many senses a meta-fictional Jack the Ripper story it winds in a Ripperologist who runs a Ripper tour who alternately becomes a source of information and a suspect. It is the only Jack the Ripper-based work that can be said to have been filmed on the locations where the original events took place (or at least the modern equivalent of them as the mini-series points out, only one of the locations is still standing). The mini-series writers have certainly researched their Ripperology. They know their theories and victimology well even introducing Martha Tabram as a strong potential victim, as many Ripperologists do. The mini-series even goes so far as to give characters throughout the names of people around the periphery of the original Jack the Ripper case the boyfriend of the first victim who is briefly suspected is named Robert Lees after the clairvoyant who contacted the police offering up evidence as to the identity of the killer; the police woman Mary Bousfield who later becomes a victim is named after Martha Tabrams landlord; and the last victim this Ripper targets is called Frances Cole after a non-canonical murder victim who may or may not have been killed by the Ripper.
The mini-series does introduce an interesting theory about what it calls the Double Event Night when The Ripper killed two victims Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes within three-quarters of an hour of each other. The universally accepted theory is that The Ripper was interrupted in the first killing and, with his hunger for the kill not slated, went onto find another victim. Contrarily, the mini-series introduces a new theory that one of the killings was a copycat. This is a completely new concept in Ripperology and something that one suspects has been invented by the mini-series for plot convenience ie. to come up with a way around the logistics of the killer having to dump bodies at two murder scenes inside a short period without being caught by police who have staked the area out than any credible existing theory.
Whitechapel is a fascinating work. I dont know if it works as a great thriller on its own terms but it is carried a substantial part of the way by its premise. One of the more intriguing parts of the story is where Ripperologist Steve Pemberton tells Rupert Penry-Jones that to solve the modern case he has to solve the identity of the historical Ripper. Interestingly, Penry-Jones then sidesteps all of the major suspects and alights upon George Hutchinson, a witness who has been identified as a potential suspect on the grounds that he gave a suspiciously long and extremely detailed description of the man that was seen with Mary Kelly just before her death. The big disappointment of the story is that for all that Rupery Penry-Jones is urged to select a Ripper suspect, his choice never has any bearing on the way that the murders here are solved. Nor is the unveiling of the Ripper copycats identity as big as the mini-series leads up to, with the killer improbably having erased their identity and then killing themselves so that their crimes can fade into the unknown mystery of time just like the original. This is perhaps being a little too faithful to the events of the original Ripper case it would have been nice if the writers had extended their speculations to choose a killer and made the revelation somehow relevant to the killers actions in the present.
The script sets up an interesting series of character conflicts. Rupert Penry-Jones is cast in the role of the rookie commander coming in to take charge of an unruly squad. The story plays this off in interesting ways. The impossibly handsome Penry-Jones is set up as a high-rising detective who is bookishly straight and, as becomes increasingly apparent throughout the series, fastidiously uptight to the point of possible psychological obsession angrily remonstrating the men of the squad for the sloppiness, even their failure to wear ties, and is seen constantly concerning himself with cleanliness. This is contrasted with the men of the squad who are characterised as rough, crude and working class in tone. This makes the essential character conflict that drives the story one of Rupert Penry-Joness fastidiousness versus the uncouth men, of upper class snobbery vs working class vulgarity.
This divide is spearheaded by two fine performances. I have admired Rupert Rupert Penry-Jones previously as the lead in the fine British spy tv series Spooks (2002 ) but here he has taken on a role that makes him decidedly unlikable and non-sympathetic at times. Up against him is Phil Davis, an actor whose performances can sometimes take you aback he seems to specialise in roles where he plays a thuggishly coarse individual, where his delivery frequently comes laced with an underlying nastiness. Where Rupert Penry-Jones plays against type and is not as likeably handsome as usual, so too does Davis, allowing the coarseness to even out to an agreeable and surprisingly decent character. One kept wondering how this conflict between uptight rookie and rough streetwise men related to the story, given the emphasis it is in the script. Eventually it is just a set-up for Penry-Jones to risk his promising career for the case and the well-worn theme of the rookie superior winning the trust of the men.
The last scene of the mini-series tends to suggest that everything has been set up for a potential ongoing series, although with the Jack the Ripper angle played out one is not sure how this would work with any great originality. A second three-part series was produced in 2010, although this was about the supposed resurrection of the crimes of the Kray Brothers and did not feature anything to do with Jack the Ripper. A third series in 2012 consisted of three two-part standard self-contained detective stories, while the fourth series in 2013 dealt with the activities of a cult of occult cannibals.
(Nominee for Best Original Screenplay at this sites Best of 2009 Awards).