A scene from WHITECHAPEL, directed by S.J. Clarkson for ITV.

Whitechapel (2009, S.J. Clarkson)

Why can the British make better sensationalist telefilms than Hollywood can make non-sensationalist theatricals? Maybe because the acting is better. There isn’t a single not good performance–meaning, there aren’t any mediocre performances–in Whitechapel.

Amid its sensationalist, what if someone copycatted the Jack the Ripper murders in the modern day (oddly, after the first mention of advancements, the police are pretty much as clueless in modernity as they were historically), the real story is between Rupert Penry-Jones and Phil Davis. Penry-Jones is the younger, newly assigned, politically groomed inspector and Davis is his experienced sergeant (who can’t stand him).

There’s a lot of humor from Davis, since the idea of a Jack the Ripper copycat is funny for Whitechapel detectives, which helps the tension. The gruesome murders are described more than shown (Claire Rushbrook shows up as the pathologist in a too small part) and the investigation, which has lots of red herrings, is well-handled. The identity of the villain is a lot less important than the process and details of the crimes.

Clarkson’s a decent director–it doesn’t feel like television; HD is changing the telefilm medium.

There’s the potential for pitfall at the end, but Whitechapel nimbly hops over it. It actually only ever feels like serialized television (in the pejorative sense) at that moment, when it seems as though the filmmakers are going to go for something easy and related to the Ripper angle instead of concentrating on the characters.

Good stuff.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by S.J. Clarkson; written by Ben Court and Caroline Ip; director of photography, Balazs Bolygo; edited by Liana Del Giudice; music by Ruth Barrett; production designer, Martyn John; produced by Marcus Wilson; released by Independent Telvision.

Starring Rupert Penry-Jones (DI Joe Chandler), Philip Davis (DS Miles), Alex Jennings (Commander Anderson), Johnny Harris (DC Sanders), Steve Pemberton (Edward Buchan), Sam Stockman (DC Kent), George Rossi (DC McCormack), Paul Hickey (Dr. Cohen), Christopher Fulford (DC Fitzgerald) and Claire Rushbrook (Dr. Llewellyn).

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