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.

9 comments:

  1. Great post. Very interesting information on the real Reid. Like you, I'm a fan of Ripper Street. Excellent acting and story lines. So glad it's coming back for a second season. For an American "Victorian," another BBC America production is excellent,too. "Copper," set in New York City during the Civil War, also has a great cast and intriguing stories. It's to return in summer, I believe.

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    1. Thank you, Barbara, for stopping by and leaving a comment. Yes! I've seen Copper too, and I am so looking forward to another season. Isn't it interesting to see the Victorian period portrayed just a couple of decades earlier and in an American setting? thanks again.

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  2. Very interesting post. Casting for shows is strange. We watched the Sharpe's series after reading the books. In the books, Sharpe was a tall and dark haired. Not so Sean Bean. I tweeted.

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    1. Thanks, Ella! Yes, obviously there are reasons for casting hunks like Sean Bean and Matthew Macfadyen for these roles. And I'm okay with that. ;)

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  3. Oh, I LOVE Ripper Street! It's on my DVR as well as my VUDU account, so I can watch it on the go . . . if need be. I have had a crush on MacFadyen for a while, but I'm quite crushing on his coworkers too! I love their plot twists, and how gritty yet sweet the show is. Ah, the show is wonderful! I could gush all day about it. I don't watch a lot of TV, but I'll have to make time for Copper too, eh?
    -Lani

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Lani! I like the plot twists too. I really wasn't keen on Homer Jackson at first, but now he's totally grown on me. And, yes, Copper is another addictive Victorian-set show. Can't wait for its new season as well.

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  4. So glad to learn a bit more about the background of this series! I've only caught a couple of the episodes, but like you, am a fan of anything set in that time period! Thanks for the great info!

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    1. Thanks, Lana, for your comment. And you're very welcome for info on the Victorian Era. I can't get enough of it either.

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