A Nazi salute probably isn’t what you expected to greet you when you flicked over to BBC One on Sunday evening. But, whilst it may be chock-a-block with fascist fury and brutality, Ridley Road is an unexpectedly enjoyable – and important – watch. Besides, you can’t deny that a sepia-tinged romp through swinging-sixties London does make the perfect side dish to a steaming plate piled high with roast dinner.
Based on true events, with a loosely fictional plot Ridley Road paints a clear picture of the reality behind the flower power rose-tinted mask of the sixties, and the truth is alarmingly familiar, with an uncomfortable number of parallels popping up between then and now. We follow protagonist Vivien Epstein, a debut role for Agnes O’Casey, who according to The Times’s Carol Midgley “had to carry most of the action and did so mesmerically”. Her screen presence is captivating, and the story isn’t half bad either.
Forced into a snoozy engagement which she hates, she elopes to London where she finds herself, a young girl from a Jewish family, caught smack bang in the middle of an antifascist revolution. A quick trip to the hairdressers leaves her a blonde bombshell with a concealed identity and a mission to spy on her opponents – and that’s only the beginning.
The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan reckons that “the fertile ground in which the seeds of antisemitism and assorted other bigotries flourish is well evoked”, and it is this excellent world-building which Ed Cumming, writer for The Independent, loves. He raves about the show’s “lingering glamour”, with “all the usual aesthetic treats of the era: staid suits giving way to miniskirts”, but despite these tropes, he also feels the show casts “a fresh perspective on familiar times”.
However, in Midgley’s opinion, this fresh perspective is somewhat to the show’s detriment, saying the drama’s main weakness is in “hammering home the contemporary parallels…a little too heavily, when they are painfully clear.” Despite this, she concludes that Ridley Road is positive, suggesting it’s similar to “a sip of champagne after weeks of supermarket cola”.
We don’t know about you, but we are more than happy to wash the roast dinner down with a glass of bubbles.
First shown October 2021.