Jack the Ripper's lethal legacy

From left, Jerome Flynn, Matthew MacFadyen and Adam Rothenberg star in the TV series Ripper Street.
From left, Jerome Flynn, Matthew MacFadyen and Adam Rothenberg star in the TV series Ripper Street. Contributed by Network Ten

JACK the Ripper's legacy extended far beyond the lives he took.

The mysterious serial killer left an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia in his wake in 1890s London, where vigilance committees were set up in the East End parish of Whitechapel.

This tense period serves as the backdrop for Ten's new UK drama Ripper Street, starring BAFTA Award-winning actor Matthew Macfadyen.

The Pride and Prejudice star plays Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, who is under enormous pressure to keep the peace in Whitechapel six months after the Ripper killings appear to have stopped.

American Adam Rothenberg plays former US Army surgeon Captain Homer Jackson, whom Reid calls on to assist in his cases.

A visionary investigator, Reid recognizes Jackson's skills in autopsy and the pair embarks on a very early form of forensics.

But there is another mysterious and potentially dark side to Jackson which Reid either doesn't know about, or prefers to ignore.

Ripper Street - Ten - Sunday at 8.30pm

"Jackson is very much the Victorian or science version of a wayward artist and Reid becomes his patron," Rothenberg said, speaking to The Guide on the phone from London's East End.

"Reid supplies him with everything he needs, talks him up, gives him the money so he can express his genius but on the other side of that you have all the destructive elements and the need to just lash out.

"Reid is one of those people who can see beyond someone's vices and beyond their faults and focus in on the quality of the person."

Jackson is certainly not a stellar candidate for a full-fledged member of the police force.

He runs a brothel, loves a drink and loves to gamble. Reid's second in command Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake, played by Game of Thrones' Jerome Flynn, keeps a careful watch over the freelancer.

"Deep down Jackson does have a bit of a moral compass, but he has a lot of resentment and is running from this idea of being regular or respectable," he said.

"Even though it's a begrudging partnership, I think Jackson secretly appreciates it."

Rothenberg is full of praise for Macfadyen.

"He's one of the warmest, kindest, talented guys I've ever worked with. I learned a lot about acting from him. I think he's an absolute genius," he said.

"When I just have scenes with him it's always a good day. His vibe on set is perfect."

The two actors share many of their scenes in the "dead room", a special lab Reid sets up for Jackson to perform his autopsies.

Luckily, Rothenberg comes from a medical family and has a strong stomach.

"My father was a doctor and my mother was a nurse," he said.

"I worked in an emergency room at a hospital as security guard a couple years back, so it was sort of in the air. I'm not particularly squeamish, except when it comes to handling the pig organs, which half the time is what you see me pulling out (of the bodies).

"It's ridiculous what we all get to do. As an actor you can't believe you're going to get to do what they just wrote for you."

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