Amateur hour at the BBC undermines what should have been a fascinating and captivating ‘based on true events’ four-part miniseries narrative that still resonates today.
Just 17 years after the end of World War II, fascism is on the rise in Britain with Colin Jordan (Rory Kinnear) heading the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, based in the East End of London. In Manchester, Vivien Epstein (Agnes O’Casey) is engaged to be married, much to her distress and at the behest of her father (Will Keen). Vivien’s real love is Jack (Tom Varey), who has headed south. She makes the decision to follow him to London.
What follows is a swag of Cockney and Mancunian stereotypes as a naive Vivien discovers Jack is deeply entrenched in Jordan’s political movement, feeding information out to an activist Jewish group headed up by Vivien’s uncle, Sol (Eddie Marsan). Fearful at first, a new-look Vivien recognises the value she can offer in finding out Jordan’s plans. Putting herself in considerable danger, a cat and mouse ensues as it becomes perfectly clear the authorities will do nothing about the threat to lives by the neo-Nazis.
Dumb and dumber springs to mind as an underwhelming narrative unravels. Lacking any real conviction in its presentation or telling, Ridley Road looks to address, in particular, the prevalence of anti-Semitism with a nod towards wider racism in the form of mixed-race Stevie (Gabriel Akuwudike). But it all falls flat in a somewhat feeble treatment with no sense of urgency or sense of reality along with disappointing production values. The miniseries interweaves fascinating newsreel footage of the time and, in an inspired piece of casting, sees 1960s star Rita Tushingham as Vivien’s London landlady. In A Taste of Honey (1961), Tushingham and Paul Danquah were involved in one of the screen’s earliest interracial love scenes. Banned in several countries as a result, it had impact. Ridley Road doesn’t even come close.