Back in December 2013, MyAnna Buring suddenly found herself out of a job when Ripper Street was abruptly cancelled by the BBC. 18 months on, the Victorian crime drama is about to make its triumphant return to BBC1 after a third series was commissioned by Amazon Prime Instant Video, airing on the on-demand service late last year.
With series four and five already given the green light, Buring – along with co-stars Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg – finds herself in a privileged position. “Hopefully it’s an encouraging sign for the future of the series,” she tells us, “that we should be backed by people who are open to the idea that they can film more than one series in succession. Normally you film a series and wait for the response and then see whether you do another, but often I think writers and creatives have more stories to tell and it’s great to be able to be in a position to be supported in that.”
Now series three is about to return to its first home, Ripper Street has finally come full circle. “I feel a bit bad for the BBC,” admits Buring, “because obviously it’s in their right to decommission something if they feel they want to put money into other things. And when Ripper Street came back with Amazon, the BBC were very much behind it as well. It was great they were willing to turn around and offer their support in a way that they felt they could. When they knew there was an opportunity in which they could be involved again, it wasn’t a case of them feeling proud and thinking ‘we can’t support this because we said no initially’. I think it’s really big of them.”
The eight new episodes pick up four years later after we were last in Whitechapel, with Flynn’s Bennet Drake now an inspector, while Inspector Reid (Macfadyen) and Captain Jackson (Rothenberg) have gone their separate ways. But a fatal train crash in the opening moments of series three brings the trio back together once again as they unite to trace the disaster to its source.
Meanwhile, Buring’s Long Susan has moved on from her days presiding over an East End brothel. After doing away with evil Silas Duggan of Obsidian Estates, she’s using his ample funds to become a force for good, opening a clinic with the help of his coffers. “She has very much taken circumstances into her own hands and changed her life completely,” says Buring. “She has set herself up as one of the most influential entrepreneurs in Whitechapel. We always talked about wanting to develop her character and turn her into the Godfather of Whitechapel – someone pulling on all the strings behind the scenes – and this is very much where we find her.”
Of course, Amazon subscribers are now eagerly awaiting series four, which begins filming in Dublin this August. “I’m a bit nervous, actually,” admits Buring. “They tend to sit us down over lunch or dinner and talk us through the general outline of where they see us and the series going and then a script falls into our laps. Hopefully Long Susan is still alive.”
But while Ripper Street – and no doubt Long Susan – will live to see another day, we’ll never know what became of Elizabeth Quinn, Buring’s character in Jimmy McGovern’s Banished, which was axed earlier this year. “All of us felt very strongly that there was a lot more to tell,” she says of thattear-jerking series finale, which aired on BBC2 back in April. “McGovern’s writing is just incredible but I think there comes a point where you have to accept the decision that’s beyond your control and move on and be grateful that you were able to be part of that show and tell that story.”
Does she have any idea of the reasoning behind the BBC’s decision not to commission a second run? “The audiences, I understand, were big enough but it comes down again to being strapped for money and having to make choices about what’s going to be reommissioned. Poldark, although it was very different, was of a similar era so there was one show representing that and there has been a desire for diversity – if they were supporting that show then it was harder to justify supporting Banished as well, perhaps?”
Any Banished fans mourning its cancellation should take inspiration from Ripper Street, which acts as a case study in the power of fan campaigning. Over a year and a half after it was axed by the BBC, viewers can rightly celebrate its return to BBC1 tonight.
Ripper Street begins on BBC1 tonight at 9pm