Vanity Fair’s Gwyneth Hughes is writing a new drama about Jack the Ripper’s victims

The new adaptation is based on a book that gives voice to the women murdered in Victorian London by the notorious serial killer

Gwyneth Hughes and Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair scriptwriter Gwyneth Hughes is writing a TV series based on a study of the forgotten victims of Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper.

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The writer of ITV’s recent adaptation of William Thackeray’s novel is dramatising The Five, historian Hallie Rubenhold’s book about the five so-called “canonical” victims of the killer – Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly – who were murdered in the late summer and autumn of 1888.

The scripts have been bought by Mainstreet Pictures, the production company behind hit ITV drama Unforgotten, and a broadcaster is expected to be signed shortly for the project which aims to move the focus away from the fascination with the perpetrator of the killings.

A dark and moving portrait of Victorian London, Rubenhold’s book “sets the record straight about the lives of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane, revealing a world of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny”, according to the producers.

The company added in a statement: “They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.

“For more than a century, the media have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told.”

Sally Haynes, Managing Director of Mainstreet Pictures, added: “The Five is a fresh, intelligent take on a story people thought they knew”.

Hallie Rubenhold added: “For years, the stories of the victims of the Ripper have been obscured by our society’s obsession with the killer. The Five turns this 130-year-old narrative on its head and focuses on the unique and surprising lives of the women. Virtually everything we have come to believe about these mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and lovers is incorrect. None of them were from the East End of London and all had lived full and varied lives coloured by tragedy and triumph before their deaths. By giving voice to the victims, the Five promises to change the way we see the Ripper murders forever. Their moving and dramatic stories are ideal for television.”

Over the years, many claims have been made about the identity of Jack the Ripper, including the suggestion that he was Queen Victoria’s grandson – Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence – the painter Walter Sickert, and even the former Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone.

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In 2014 a book was written which claimed that DNA evidence suggested he was a mentally disturbed hairdresser called Aaron Kosminski who died in in an asylum from gangrene.