Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ripper Street and the Real Ed Reid

I jump at any chance to see Victorian England portrayed in movies and on television, so the prospect of Ripper Street, when they began advertising it on BBC America last year, had me delirious with anticipation by the time the first episode aired in January 2013. I wasn’t disappointed. How could I be? The series stars Matthew Macfadyen as Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, who hardly has time to deal with the aftermath of the Jack the Ripper murders before equally heinous crimes arise in his corner of London’s East End.

It’s easy to get distracted by Macfadyen’s voice and eyes and his altogether excellent acting, but the other cast members—Jerome Flynn as DS Drake and Adam Rothenberg as former US Army Surgeon and Pinkerton agent turned brothel owner Captain Homer Jackson—are equally engaging. I particularly like the fact that the series uses relevant historical issues from the period to drive the show’s episodes and storyline. In the first season alone, they have explored the advent of moving picture film, the threat of cholera, the development of the underground railway, and the London Dock Strike of 1889, to name just a few. Luckily for those of us who have enjoyed every moment of the first season, a second has been commissioned and should be filming soon.

The real Edmund Reid was a bit different than the tall, handsome, deep-voiced Macfadyen. Well, Reid might actually have sported a deliciously deep baritone. There are no extant recordings to prove otherwise. But he wasn’t tall. In fact, at the time he joined he was the shortest man on the Metropolitan Police force at 5 feet 6 inches tall. However, his height did nothing to deter his rise up the ranks. He entered the Met as a constable in 1872 at the age of twenty-six, and he finally reached the position of Detective Inspector in 1885. Three years later, when Jack the Ripper began his homicidal rampage through East End London, DI Reid was the head of the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) in Whitechapel.

The real Reid must have been a bit of an adventurer. Not only did he choose to join the police force and enter the detective service, but he was a balloonist and parachutist. He made about 23 balloon ascents and, in 1883, won a gold medal for a record-breaking ascent from The Crystal Palace. Like his fictionalized counterpart on Ripper Street, he did have a wife named Emily. However, he and his Emily had two children, a daughter named Elizabeth and a son named Harold. Seventeen years after Emily’s passing, Reid remarried to Lydia Halling, a woman twenty years his junior. Unfortunately, he died later that same year at the age of seventy-one.

Ripper Street’s Reid has the same kind of scappy, means-to-an-end attitude about solving crime and finding the truth as I imagine the real DI Reid possessed. For a wonderful combination of historical details, cinematic flair, and great acting, check out Ripper Street on BBC America, iTunes, or Amazon Instant Video.