Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * * * (Series 4, case 1)
Cast: Rupert Penry Jones, Phil Davis, Steve Pemberton, Claire Rushbrook, Sam Stockman, Ben Bishop, Hannah Walker, Georgina Anderson, Deddie Davies, Jake Curran, Damian Dudkiewicz, Mary Roscoe, Brian Protheroe.
If series three of Whitechapel focused on the gruesome, the first case of series four entered the disturbingly macabre in which the spirit of fear spread by Matthew Hopkins, the early 17th century self-appointed Witch Finder General, found a new playground in which to distribute terror and in the area of Whitechapel there is perhaps no greater place of significance of which fear and terror has been housed.
The two part case reunites the team of Rupert Penry Jones, Phil Davis and Steve Pemberton in a series that has not just great nods to the ghastly and sometimes nefarious history that surrounds the roads and back alleyways that stretch out east from the City of London, it heightens the small creeping feeling of disquiet that builds up during each investigation. It also brings the very best out of the three main actors. Rupert Penry Jones has made an art form out the mental anguish and compulsive behaviour that besets the mind of D.I. Joseph Chandler and as the series of stories has progressed, the introspection has become more increased. It is a testament to the writers of the programme that they gave the leading detective such an interesting form of neurosis to deal with rather than the typical route of giving him a drink or drug problem or having family issues. For this Rupert Penry Jones over four seasons has given his best for this characterisation.
The case centres on a killer driven by revenge and superstition, the result is perhaps the most shocking and macabre ways of torture that was ever devised by those who for whatever reason, be it 17th century misogyny of those who were terrified of the seemingly strange, women who lived a different life to others or even the fact that they were scared of the power of such women and in the end found it easier to call them a witch and deal out insane justice to them.
The parallels between the killer in 21st Century and the insanity that visited upon areas in Britain and to an even greater degree in the fledgling communities in North America and Europe was disturbing. As the case went on, the fear began to spread to those inside the police force as well and when coupled with the appearance of ex-British spy Crispin Wingfield, played with unnerving gravitas by Salisbury born musician Brian Protheroe, nerves and tempers become even more frayed than has been in the previous three series.
Whitechapel has all the ingredients needed to be the very best of police dramas, a great cast, an eye for the unnatural and huge references to the past of one of the most notorious areas in the U.K. It also is able to send a chill up the spine; the ghosts of Whitechapel still walk the streets.
Ian D. Hall