BBC Video // 2009 // 136 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // January 2nd, 2012
The nightmare begins again.
Whitechapel is a sizzling concept on paper that disappoints in the execution. The three-episode police procedural, which debuted on the BBC in February of 2009, centers on Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones, Match Point), a clean-cut bureaucrat on the career fast-track despite having no practical experience as a cop. His superiors toss him an open-and-shut case meant to burnish his credentials: the vicious murder of a woman in the Whitechapel district of London. But Chandler soon finds himself neck deep in a mystery involving a Jack the Ripper copycat. Scrambling to anticipate the killer's next move based on the Ripper's 1888 rampage through Whitechapel, Chandler is forced to confront his own limitations, lack of experience, and the fact that his political acumen doesn't impress the cops of Whitechapel, led by seasoned Detective Sergeant Ray Miles (Phil Davis, Vera Drake).
The makers of Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns are up-front about the fact that they intended the dramatic engine of the show to be the question of whether modern-day cops with the benefit of forensic science could capture Jack the Ripper, who evaded Victorian era Scotland Yard. The potential drama of the concept is largely undermined, though, by the fact that Chandler and his team know where and when each of the original Ripper's murders took place. If the killer is dead-set on repeating the original Ripper's pattern with as much accuracy as he can muster, then it should be easy enough to nab him. But Chandler's pursuit culminates in a nail-biting beat-the-clock scenario as they try to prevent a repeat of the murder of Mary Kelly-Jack the Ripper's fifth, final, and most famous killing because of the gruesome way he dissected the victim. It's difficult not to come away thinking Chandler and his team incompetent.
Strong performances by Penry-Jones and Davis ensure that Whitechapel is watchable, but it's hard not to feel like something essential is missing. As British cop shows go, Whitechapel doesn't hold a candle to Life on Mars or Sherlock.
BBC Video's DVD release of this first season of Whitechapel is a solid piece of work. The three 45-minute episodes are presented on a single dual-layered disc. The anamorphic widescreen transfer delivers detail and color reproduction limited only by the 480p presentation (I couldn't help but the think that I was missing out not seeing the stylish imagery in high definition). The cinematography by Balazs Bolygo (Centurion) and David Odd (Prime Suspect 2) is styled after big screen productions rather than television. Compositions are tight and precise, using the entire 1.78:1 frame to beautiful effect. The image has the bright sheen and extreme depth of high definition video, hampered slightly by the standard def presentation. Audio is offered up in a drab but acceptable 2.0 stereo mix. It delivers clean dialogue, but effects and music have little snap.
The only supplement on the disc is a 29-minute making-of featurette called "Peeling Back the Layers." It's interesting and thorough. I found it more entertaining than any of the episodes of the show itself.
Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns is passably entertaining, but ultimately forgettable. Mostly, it made me wish that the BBC would get on the stick and send a few more episodes of Sherlock to America.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site