Ridley Road has a dark heart to its storyline, taken from the novel by Jo Bloom, and with a screenplay by Sarah Solemani, usually best known for being onscreen in comedies like Him & Her and The Pact.
Set in 1962, the Nazi’s are long gone, but just setting up an HQ in London is the National Socialst Movement, led by Colin Jordan (Rory Kinnear). Meanwhile, up in Manchester, Vivien (Agnes O’Casey) has just got engaged to a Jewish man, but is drawn to that there London as she’d rather be with lover, Jack (Tom Varey).
But true love never runs smooth, and she soon realises he’s a massive racist who’s joined said neo Nazi movement. Trying to counter them is an underground movement with which her uncle, Soly (Eddie Marsan), is involved. But for someone who’s taken a job in the capital as a hairdresser, Vivien just doesn’t look like the kind of person who could infiltrate a far-right organisation, and the likes of Jordan, whose only joy comes from persecuting the Jews.
Along the way, because people are allowed to protest apparently peacefully, the movement publicly do so in Trafalgar Square, and if you try to voice an objection, it doesn’t take long before you realise that the police are also a bunch of racists.
Perhaps future episodes go into more detail, but so far, the opener is mostly talking and just one mass fight happening that – apart from one incident – which feels like the most non-violent fight ever, as all the punches land just off-camera, even though this is a post-watershed drama. Hence, very little seems to happen. It’s all set-up.
As a result, Ridley Road‘s dark plot feels like it’s been dealt with way too lightly. I just don’t get the sense of urgency from any of the characters. It feels like everyone’s just going through the motions; the cameras were switched on, the director shouted “Action!”, and everyone just shuffled about unconvincingly.
I might take a look at the second episode, because for a primetime drama, this has to get better, right? Perhaps it’s like a film where, so far, I’ve only seen a bit of it, and the best is yet to come? I hope so. Eddie Marsan rarely disappoints, but here, his role feels secondary to that of Ms O’Casey. That said, “Hairdresser infiltrates neo Nazi organisation”… doesn’t sound plausible, does it?
As a side note, the series is shot in a movie-like 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and I wish TV dramas would just stick to 16:9. Often, the Netflix-started 2.00:1 ratio is only used to hide boom mikes dropping into shot, but I can never comprehend those that go ‘the full Cinemascope’ and frame the image as if it’s a film.
Sometimes, there are brief shots – which I thought at first were shot now, and made to look as if they’re from an archived period in time, but are actually archival footage from Pathé. However, since they’re narrower than the 2.35:1 image, it crops the sides, resulting in a tiny windowboxed image.
Ridley Road begins tonight on BBC1 at 9pm, and runs for four weeks. It’s not yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD.
After broadcast, the complete series will be available on the BBC iPlayer.
Episode 1: 3/10
Director: Lisa Mulcahy
Producer: Betsan Morris Evans
Screenplay: Sarah Solemani
Novel: Jo Bloom
Music: Ben Onono
Vivien Epstein: Agnes O’Casey
Colin Jordan: Rory Kinnear
Soly Malinovsky: Eddie Marsan
Nancy Malinovsky: Tracy Ann Oberman
Roza Furstenburg: Julia Krynke
Stevie: Gabriel Akuwudike
Lee: Danny Hatchard
David Epstein: Will Keen
Barbara Watson: Tamzin Outhwaite
Liza Epstein: Samantha Spiro
Ronnie Malinovsky: Danny Sykes
Chrissy: Hannah Traylen
Nettie Jones: Rita Tushingham
Jack Morris: Tom Varey
Mr. Gary Burns: Nigel Betts
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.