In the realm of true crime television, the narrative formula often follows a predictable path: a notorious serial killer takes center stage, captivating audiences with their sinister charisma, while the victims themselves become mere footnotes in their own tragic stories. This pattern has become all too familiar on the screens of countless streaming platforms. However, “The Long Shadow,” a new ITV drama series about the Yorkshire Ripper, defies these conventions in a way that is both refreshing and profoundly impactful.
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With seven episodes in total, “The Long Shadow” offers a unique perspective from the very beginning. Unlike its counterparts, the series keeps the notorious killer, Peter Sutcliffe, in the shadows for much of its early episodes, subverting the typical fascination with the criminal. The creators of the show, including writer George Kay and director Lewis Arnold, are on a mission to shift the focus onto the victims, a refreshing departure from the genre’s usual fixation on the perpetrator.
The series draws its inspiration from Michael Bilton’s book “Wicked Beyond Belief” and additional research, undertaken with the consultation and blessing of the victims’ families. “The Long Shadow” is an unflinching portrayal of the lives of these women, with a particular emphasis on those who survived. Through the poignant storytelling, the audience is reminded that these women were more than just statistics; they were individuals with dreams, struggles, and families who loved them.
The narrative unfolds with Wilma McCann’s murder, portrayed by Gemma Laurie. It takes five long years for the police to apprehend Sutcliffe, despite interviewing him nine times. However, the series quickly shifts its focus to Emily Jackson, portrayed by Katherine Kelly. The opening episodes meticulously paint a picture of her dire financial situation, driven by societal pressures that push her, a wife and mother, into a harrowing path, ultimately leading her into Sutcliffe’s sights.
“The Long Shadow” delves deep into the complexities of these women’s lives. It isn’t merely poverty that propels the Jacksons into extreme measures; it’s the intricate web of social pressures and the fear of losing face in front of their neighbors. The series also sheds light on the subtle prejudices that pushed Irene Richardson, played by Molly Vevers, out of a job opportunity as a nanny, a role that might have saved her from becoming Sutcliffe’s third victim.
The story unfolds further to introduce Marcella Claxton, portrayed by Jasmine Lee-Jones, who miraculously survives a hammer attack by the man who would later be dubbed “the Yorkshire Ripper” by the media. The series handles her traumatic experience with sensitivity, depicting her struggle to come to terms with her ordeal and the loss of her unborn child.
Amid these gripping individual narratives, the police investigation weaves its way through the women’s stories. Although it touches on familiar elements, the quality of the writing and the presence of talented actors like Toby Jones, David Morrissey, and Lee Ingleby as the various detectives in charge over the years elevate the storytelling beyond the ordinary. What sets “The Long Shadow” apart is its ability to subtly but powerfully embed the pervasive misogyny and racism of the era, especially within the police force.
In a nod to the systemic prejudices that shaped the investigation, the series portrays how even well-intentioned officers struggled to overcome their ingrained biases. It’s not just a series of overtly sexist or racist incidents; it’s a way of life and thinking that seeps into every aspect of the characters’ actions and decisions. One poignant scene involves an initially polite hospital interview with Marcella Claxton, which slowly devolves into an interrogation when the officers’ veneer of politeness in front of a black woman begins to crack.
“The Long Shadow” masterfully illustrates why the investigation repeatedly faltered, with even those considered “good guys” dismissing the deaths of sex workers or assuming that women out late at night got what was coming to them. The series doesn’t rely on dramatic, larger-than-life moments to convey its message; instead, it quietly but effectively exposes the deeply entrenched biases that hindered justice for the victims.
In a genre where viewers often seek catharsis through clear distinctions between good and bad, or moments of outright bigotry, “The Long Shadow” chooses a different path. It refuses to provide the false comfort of believing that times have dramatically changed. Instead, it prompts us to confront the lingering attitudes that still work against women today.
“The Long Shadow” is currently available for viewers in the UK on ITV and ITVX, as well as on Stan in Australia. With its commitment to portraying the victims as more than just names in a criminal case, the series stands as a shattering and thought-provoking departure from the conventions of serial killer dramas.