TV review: Ripper Street | Press Gang | Borgen

Adam Rothenberg, Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn on Ripper Street
Adam Rothenberg, Matthew Macfadyen and Jerome Flynn on Ripper Street
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HE WAS Keira Knight­ley’s Darcy, but to most people, Matthew Macfadyen will always be “that guy from Spooks”. Tom Quinn was a slim, fine-featured agent who did some very ugly things in the name of counter-terrorism.­

Ripper Street

Sunday, BBC1, 9pm

Press Gang

Saturday, CITV, 4.15pm


Saturday, BBC4, 9pm

In the years since, Macfadyen has bulked out, and in Ripper Street the ­effect is amplified by his whopping great coat. He looks as broad as a barn door, and you can easily imagine him cracking skulls with a billy club in the chaotic streets of 1889 Whitechapel.

Put Macfadyen alongside Jerome Flynn as another burly copper and Adam Rothenberg as a wily US surgeon, and it seems like this bromantic trio of Victorian legbreakers are just the right peelers to track down that legendary bad ’un Jack the Ripper. Except Jack hasn’t been seen for six months. So even though he casts a shadow over the whole grubby world of Ripper Street – with some citizens still so shellshocked they dare not speak his name lest he materialise and shish kebab them – Jack is also a nagging absence at the heart of it.

After the first episode, it was unclear whether creator ­Richard Warlow will bring the Ripper back in some way, shape or diabolical form, but there are plenty of other offences to tackle in White­chapel, all notably gruesome in nature. A trail of viscera led Macfadyen to a murderous aristo making deeply unpleasant snuff movies with a magic lantern. There was lots of claret and guts, but, if anything, the language could do with being more hot-blooded. Warlow is clearly reaching for the Shakespearean gutter poetry of Deadwood, but even the clipped diction of Macfadyen couldn’t elevate the dialogue to the heights of David Milch’s Wild West masterpiece. Full marks for trying though. And hopefully MyAnna Buring will have more to do in future ­episodes as the obligatory brothel madam.

Was New Year really the best time to launch an eight-part drama about nightmare-inducing crimes in a community paralsyed by a lethal bogeyman? Maybe. There’s a theory, popularised by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel From Hell, that Jack’s slayings were ritualistic preparation for the bloody birth of nothing less than the 20th century itself. (As for theories about the Ripper’s disappearance, I like the explanation offered in Shanghai Knights, where Jackie Chan’s sister spin-kicks him into the Thames after he gets a bit grabby.)

This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of Children’s ITV, originally conceived as a weekday programming block to fill the gap between school hometime and Blockbusters. In recent years, such kid-friendly programming has been ­banished to digital channels, including one operating under the CITV brand. To celebrate three decades of Fun House, schedulers curated a retro weekend of the channel’s best output, including episodes of Supergran, Neil Buchanan’s Art Attack and the death-filled dungeon-crawling gameshow Knightmare.

Yesterday, there was a chance to revisit the first ever episode of Press Gang (the last ever episode screens this afternoon). Created by current Doctor Who showrunner Stephen Moffat in 1989, it stood up remarkably well, with zippy dialogue and appealing performances from uptight Junior Gazette editor Julie Sawalha and her wouldbe beau Dexter Fletcher, apparently impersonating a World War Two GI on his first trip to London. With so much world-building required in episode one – which never did quite satisfactorily explain why high-flying London hack Matt Kerr had returned to his hometown to set up a junior version of his local paper – there was precious little screen time for wheeler-dealer Colin (Paul Reynolds), a fantastic comic character who deserved his own Tucker’s Luck-style spin-off. Could such a show exist in our current digital-first news culture? Probably not, but Press Gang undoubtedly filled more newsrooms with ambitious, can-do cub reporters than it gets credit for. Hearing Sawalha and Fletcher verbally spar as the credits rolled – an innovation for its time – brought back a dizzying rush of memories for this schoolboy-turned-journalist-turned-schoolboy-again. They could have called it Proust Gang.

After that, it was time to start gorgin’ on Borgen, with BBC4 serving up season two in satisfying double chunks. Set ten months after the end of season one, the action picked up in Afghanistan, with Prime Minister Birgitte still trying to juggle affairs of state with her unresolved separation. Some critics find the emphasis on soul-searching rather than politicking too sincere. But is that such a terrible way to start a new year? «

Twitter: @graemevirtue

• Graeme Virtue talks TV on Radio Scotland’s MacAulay & Co show every Wednesday morning. Aidan Smith returns next week