I love it when two of my faves meet. As a longtime fan of BBC shows and PBS Masterpiece (nothing soothes my soul like British period drama) and a professional lover of Jewish TV, I’m thrilled to tell you that the super Jewish “Ridley Road,” a BBC One limited series set in 1960s London, will premiere on PBS Masterpiece in May 2022.
“Ridley Road” has everything one could ask for. The four-episode mini-series features romance, espionage, action, an extremely gifted cast, convincing sets of 1960s England (including Jewish homes and businesses), gorgeous 60s fashion… and Nazi hunters — yes, that’s right, this is not just a period piece, it’s about Jews fighting fascists. If you’re not sold yet, I don’t know what else to tell you.
“Ridley Road,” which premiered in the UK back in October 2021, tells the story of Vivien Epstein (Agnes O’Casey) a young Jewish woman who rejects her middle-class Manchester life and goes to London, where she gets recruited to infiltrate a local extreme-right group.
The series takes place in the swinging 1960s. When we meet Vivien, she’s in love with Jack, but her family wants her to marry a nice local Jewish boy. So she escapes to London, gets a job at a hair salon and meets her uncle Soly Malinovsky, a black cab driver and the head of a Jewish anti-fascist movement played by Eddie Marsan.
(Marsan, who often plays Jewish roles including former Israeli prime minister and president Shimon Peres in “Entebbe,” recently tweeted about hostility and antisemitic attacks he faced after playing Jewish characters: “F**k me, this is relentless, all I did was play a Jew, I dread to think what would’ve happened if I was actually Jewish.”)
Recruited by Soly, Vivien joins Jack to work undercover for the “62 Group,” the London-based, militant, broad coalition of anti-fascists. They work to infiltrate the National Socialist Movement, later renamed the British Movement, a neo-Nazi movement on the rise.
Vivien dyes her hair and takes on an alias to seduce Colin Jordan (played by “Penny Dreadful” and “No Time to Die” actor Rory Kinnear), one of the most prominent figures from the British Movement. Jordan is married to Francoise Dior, the niece of French resistance fighter Catherine Dior and designer Christian Dior, who distanced himself from Francoise after she married Jordan.
The first trailer is narrated by fabulous Jewish actress Samantha Spiro (“Sex Education”) who plays Vivien’s mom, Liza, as she speaks to Nancy Malinovsky, played by Tracy-Anny Oberman (“After Life”), who is also Jewish (Oberman starred as Golde in a 2017 West End production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” connecting to the role because the character was just like her Jewish grandmother, who escape pogroms in Russia).
“Can I just get this right?” Liza asks Nancy in the trailer: “My youngest daughter, the apple of my eye knocked on your door, having never been outside of Manchester, and in a matter of a couple of days, you had her bleach her hair, adopt an alias, and sent her in to schmooze a full-blown Hitler disciple.”
As we listen to Liza, we see scenes of Miriam’s progression from brown-haired and doe-eyed in Manchester to bottle-blonde with cat eyes and painted red lips in London — even raising a Nazi salute in the company of Jordan and his son.
The cast also features Tamzin Outhwaite (“EastEnders,” “New Tricks”) as Barbra, a hairdresser Vivien works for when she comes to London, and queer Jewish actor Allan Corduner (“Topsy Turvy”) as Rabbi Lehrer.
“Ridley Road” is directed by Jewish actress and director Sarah Solemani (“Him & Her,” “The Bad Education Movie”) and is based on the Jo Bloom book by the same name. While the show is based on true events and true history, Vivien’s story is fiction.
The show has already gotten some rave reviews in Britain, with the Independent’s Ed Cumming writing that “Ridley Road” “shows that extremism needn’t arise out of extraordinary situations. It emerges from everyday life.”
Sounds like a very pertinent lesson. “Ridley Road” will be premiering on May 1, 2022 at 9/8c on PBS Masterpiece.
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of Kveller delivered straight to your inbox.