Why BBC drama Ridley Road is worth binge-watching - Anthony Clavane

I won’t be tuning in to the latest episode of Ridley Road on Sunday at 9pm.

This is because – yes, you’ve guessed – I have already binge-watched the entire series on iPlayer.

I really wish I had more self-discipline. For this is the kind of prestige BBC drama – think Line of Duty, Peaky Blinders and Doctor Foster – that deserves to be anticipated, savoured and dissected on a weekly basis.

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Ridley Road. Ronnie Malinovsky (DANNY SYKES), Vivien Epstein (AGNES O'CASEY), Soly Malinovsky (EDDIE MARSAN) - (C) Red Productions - Photographer: Ben Blackall.Ridley Road. Ronnie Malinovsky (DANNY SYKES), Vivien Epstein (AGNES O'CASEY), Soly Malinovsky (EDDIE MARSAN) - (C) Red Productions - Photographer: Ben Blackall.
Ridley Road. Ronnie Malinovsky (DANNY SYKES), Vivien Epstein (AGNES O'CASEY), Soly Malinovsky (EDDIE MARSAN) - (C) Red Productions - Photographer: Ben Blackall.
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Do you remember those far-off days, before Netflix, when we all went to work on a Monday morning, gathered around the water cooler and discussed the twists and turns of the previous night’s series?

Streaming has changed the way we consume TV. Forever.

It has ushered in a new era which eschews delayed gratification, appointment viewing and considered reflection.

Waiting a whole week just to watch the latest episode of your favourite show is as out-of-date as (I am told) ripped jeans. Or, in my case, flared jeans.

But this column is not another lament for a lost, golden age. It is more a celebration of the kind of captivating show which should inspire us to defend, rather than defund, the BBC.

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Ridley Road is a fictional spy thriller, inspired by actual events, set in Britain 17 years after the fall of Nazi Germany. It features a Jewish hairdresser who infiltrates the National Socialist Movement, led by the notorious far-right leader Colin Jordan.

Sarah Solemani’s adaptation starts off as a cosy Call The Midwife-type drama but, just as it threatens to be another twee, and somewhat romanticised, take on the Swinging Sixties – seducing us with its nostalgic period detail – it takes a dark turn.

Suddenly we are in the world of riots, fascist rallies and attacks on Jewish schools.

Occasionally, it draws parallels with the language and actions of today’s far-right, populist movements. For this, and other supposed misdemeanours, it has been taken to task.

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According to the Mail on Sunday’s Peter Hitchens, it is “another attempt to twist history and smear Brits as racist dupes”.

Camilla Long in The Sunday Times described it as a “pearl-clutching, posturing, paranoid BBC drama” and berated its “preachy tone and willingness to turn even trivial plot points into potshots relating to present-day politics”.

True, it is a bit simplistic and the dialogue, at times, is rather clunky. Some of the characters are cartoonish. But I found it to be a compelling, and gripping, thriller about a forgotten slice of post-war British history.

It manages to both entertain and provoke, combining an engaging love story with a gritty portrayal of the resurgence of fascism.

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It boasts a magnificent cast. Eddie Marsan steals the show as a grumpy taxi driver running the Jewish resistance.

Then there is Rory Kinnear’s nuanced portrayal of the sinister Jordan – and wonderful turns from Samantha Spiro, Tracey-Ann Oberman, Rita Tushingham and newcomer Agnes O’Casey.

Most of all, bingeing it in a week when yet another football match was marred by allegations of racism, it highlighted issues which continue to resonate in our present dark age.

Tuesday’s England-Hungary game at Wembley was overshadowed by away fans jeering the home team’s players for taking the knee and the police arresting a fan for “a racially aggravated public order offence”.

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As we know from the racist abuse on social media following England’s Euro 2020 final defeat, such vileness is not confined to Eastern European countries.

Last month, the Community Security Trust, a charity which provides security for British Jews, disclosed that 1,308 anti-Jewish hate incidents had occurred in the first half of this year, the highest total in the first half of any year.

A report by campaign group Hope Not Hate revealed that a new generation of social media users were being introduced to anti-semitic ideas.

So, Ridley Road is a timely reminder that the cause anti-fascists were fighting back in the 1960s is still worth supporting in the 21st century.

As Solemani puts it: “Britain’s relationship with fascism is closer and more alive than we like to think. Luckily, so is our rich heritage of fighting it.”