Spooks and 39 Steps star Rupert Penry-Jones stars alongside Phil Davis in a new ITV1 drama set in a modern-day Whitechapel where someone is carrying out copycat Jack the Ripper murders 120 years after the killer first struck.
The three-part series, entitled Whitechapel, features Penry-Jones as the very modern, fast-tracked, media savvy DI Joseph Chandler on his first big murder case. Davis plays Ray Miles, a hard-bitten DS nearing retirement who finds himself saddled with a boss who would rather talk about Emotional Intelligence than gut feeling. Completing the lie-up of main characters is Steve Pemberton’s Edward Buchan, an eccentrically brilliant Ripperologist.
Producer Marcus Wilson says he was attracted to the script by the atmosphere it evoked and by the “genuine tension that grew out of the unstoppable ticking clock that Chandler was up against.”
He says: “As the director, SJ Clarkson, and I looked around the Whitechapel area on location recces we were fascinated by the layering of history in the architecture.
“But this allowed us to visually reflect the theme of the script, that modern day events were mirroring the past. Filming in the East End was visually fabulous, and lent a real atmosphere and authenticity to the piece. Logistically, it was a nightmare at times as we wanted to cover so much ground, at night, without unduly disturbing residents.
“London is amazing, at street level, everything feels modern but if you look up, past the neon hoardings, you see the history of the city in the buildings. And the reverse is true, get up high and look down and there are still cobbles everywhere. In fact, I’m told some of the cobbles on the murder sites are still the same cobbles that Jack walked in 1888.”
Talking about the style in which the story unfolds in Whitechapel, Marcus adds: “We wanted it to be an exciting and, at times, frightening story, but we believed that our best ally in this was the viewers’ imagination, and that by not showing the crimes in too much detail we would actually increase the impact of the deaths, and allow them to resonate emotionally. We also didn’t want to cheapen or sensationalise the story, particularly the events of 1888.”
Ben Court, who co-wrote the drama with Caroline Ip, says: “We have always had a broad interest in serial killers. Jack the Ripper stood out because the case is unsolved and we thought it would be interesting to ‘re-investigate’ the crimes from a modern perspective.
“For research we read a lot of books and visited all the original sites, as far as is possible. We also spent a lot of time online looking at the Ripperology sites. There are hundreds of books and theories so for the facts we relied on impartial experts and we avoided books that claimed to “solve” the mystery.
“We are working on our own theory about the Ripper but it’s too early to say any more than that…”