sun 05/12/2021

Ridley Road, BBC One review - Jewish community fights Nazi nightmare in 1960s London | reviews, news & interviews

Ridley Road, BBC One review - Jewish community fights Nazi nightmare in 1960s London

Ridley Road, BBC One review - Jewish community fights Nazi nightmare in 1960s London

Enlightenment about a resurgence of English Fascism wrapped up in a well-acted thriller

Rory Kinnear as Colin Jordan and Agnes O'Casey as Vivien Epstein

Neo-Nazis held a Trafalgar Square rally under the banner "Free Britain from Jewish Control" in the year of my birth; I had no idea until I watched Ridley Road. Most of us know about the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, but, until now, next to nothing about the Jewish resistance against fascist Colin Jordan and his gang of thugs, some of them cynically recruited from borstals and children’s homes, 17 years after the end of the Second World War.

Sarah Solemani's adaptation of Jo Bloom’s novel plays with the chronology a bit – arsonists did kill a boy in a Jewish theological college, but after most of the other events depicted here – but ticks all the boxes: shabby-chic recreation of the early 1960s, nuanced performances, chilling links with today’s rise of the far right and a thriller element which inevitably goes through the roof in the last episode.

It was a masterstroke to cast 25-year-old Agnes O’Casey as Vivien Epstein, the nice Jewish girl from Manchester whose development as an anti-fascist is mesmerisingly charted. The peroxide transformation is radical, of course, but it’s not just in the looks that Casey compels. She’s more than equal to the acting skills of Rory Kinnear, a chillingly plausible neo-Nazi operator. Anything you don’t believe about his actions, you can check with reality, and some of it turns out to be even more bizarre, like the ritual wedding with Françoise Dior (vividly nasty in Romane Portail's portrayal, though not every word can be made out, and there's a dodgy accent in that episode, from Stephen Hogan as Jordan's American funder George Lincoln Rockwell) where they let their blood drip on to the first page of Hitler's Mein Kampf. Scene from Ridley RoadEddie Marsan only has to be his sympathetic self and enjoyably shouty in the occasional rages as the fictional Soly Malinovsky, giving heart to the cause of the real-life Jewish movement known as the 62 Group, well flanked by Tracy Ann Oberman, stylishly tough, and Allan Corduner as the quiet rabbi turned resistance supporter. You can’t fail to enjoy the performances of 60s star Rita Tushingham as a landlady sucked in by the rhetoric of racism who, like Vivien, goes on a journey, albeit a more sentimentally sketched one, Samantha Spiro as Vivien‘s mother (she has a terrific if short scene with Oberman in the final episode, pictured above), and Tamsin Outhwaite as the ballsy owner of the Soho haidresser’s where Vivien works, adding a splash of 60s colour. The leading young men are attractive: while Gabriel Akuwudike’s racially targeted Stevie deserves a bit more development, Tom Varey is allowed to be interestingly tough as infiltrator of the fascist circle Jack Morris, Vivien’s boyfriend.

The pace set by director Lisa Mulcahy is unerring, the dialogue believable, and even the score, by Ben Onono, is a cut above the usual telly drama-series aural wallpaper. Here’s yet another reason to cut the BBC some slack over its apparent cravenness in the face of an increasingly authoritarian and in many alarming if inconsistent ways far-right government.

The peroxide transformation is radical, of course, but it’s not just in the looks that Casey compels

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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