MASTERPIECES Ridley Road is an action thriller inspired by true events from 1960s London when neo-Nazism was alive and well. It’s a surprising slice of British history involving the rise of fascism and the courageous souls taking an active stand against it. Learn what to expect from the gripping series, what history it’s based on, who stars in the show, where it was filmed, and how you can watch.
What is Ridley Road About?
The show centers on the fictional character of Vivien Epstein, who goes from humdrum hairdresser to amateur spy after following ex-boyfriend Jack to London. She discovers Jack is embedded within an extreme right-wing political movement and covertly feeding intelligence to Jewish activists. When Jack suddenly goes silent, Vivien boldly charms her way into the fascist group’s upper ranks to learn what’s happened to him. “It’s a hugely important story because of the idea of people becoming actively involved…and the rise of extreme right-wing politics [that is] absolutely prevalent today,” says executive producer Nicola Shindler.
Expect four, adrenalin-filled episodes right out of the gate, with sudden turns, narrow squeaks, and a love story to root for—all set in a carefully reconstructed 1960s London. Ridley Road “is a serious piece of work that also manages to hit all the spy-movie and thriller buttons,” says the UK’s Condé Nast Traveler.
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Is Ridley Road a True Story?
Based on Jo Bloom’s 2015 novel, Ridley Road sets mostly fictional characters and a made-up storyline into an historic context. The narrative exposes an accurate, darker side of London’s swinging sixties when postwar Britain faced the ideologies of extreme right-wing groups like the National Socialist Movement led by Colin Jordan. Jordan’s French wife is true to life as is his collaboration with the leader of the American Nazi party at the time, George Rockwell. Viewers will see archival video footage woven into the TV drama, reminding us of actual events.
The series name comes from the very real East End street where Jewish anti-fascists known as the “62 Group” planned their rebellious activities. The 62 Group formed as white supremacists threatened Jews, immigrants, and people of color, and it succeeded in moving the National Socialist Movement to the fringes of British politics. “It’s an exhilarating, suspenseful journey into a slice of British history that very few people know about,” says writer and executive producer Sarah Solemani. “It’s a scary story, but ultimately it’s one of triumph and hope.”
Who’s in the Cast?
Newcomer Agnes O’Casey makes her TV debut as Vivien Epstein, a young and apolitical ingenue who transforms into a scrappy resistance fighter. “She’s the female action hero in the center of a period piece,” says executive producer Nicola Shinder. Not only is O’Casey’s role one to die for, but she also gets to lead a cast of veteran actors. “I got so much advice and care from both Eddie Marsan and Tracy-Ann Oberman [who play Vivien’s aunt and uncle],” O’Casey tells the UK’s What To Watch. “I was blessed by my cast. I get emotional thinking about it.”
Vivien’s sweetheart Jack is played by Tom Varey (Dark AngelGame of Thrones) as a determined man ready to die for a cause; there’s a lot of chemistry between these two. He infiltrates the neo-Nazi group led by Colin Jordan, an historic figure portrayed by actor Rory Kinnear (Cranford, No Time to Die) as both charismatic and eerily inscrutable.
Other cast include Eddie Marsano (Ray Donovan) as short-tempered Soly Malinovsky, Tracy-Ann Oberman (After Life, Midsomer Murders) is his clever wife Nancy, and Danny Sykes (Bullet proof) plays their son Ronnie—all 62 Group characters. Samantha Spiro (Sex Education) plays Vivien’s naive mother Liza Epstein, Will Keen (The Crown) is her not-so-forthcoming father David, and Julia Krynke is Vivien’s distressed cousin Roza. Tamzin Outhwaite (EastEnders) plays stylish salon owner Barbara with Gabriel Akuwudike (War of the Worlds) as her law student son Stevie. finally, Danny Hatchard (EastEnders) takes the role of closed-minded thug Lee, while Rita Tushingham (The Pale Horse), portrays an elderly landlady open to new ideas.
Where was Ridley Road Filmed?
As it turns out, no filming was done in London itself. Instead, the production shot scenes in northwest England—including at Yorkshire’s Broughton Hall, made famous in All Creatures Great and Small as Mrs. Pumphrey’s home! In this series, the grand estate is where the National Socialist Movement trains its paramilitary force; filming occurred throughout the house and in the formal gardens.
Greater Manchester was the main stand-in for London’s East End. In the city’s Northern Quarter, Tib Street storefronts were given a 60s vibe, including the fictional Oscars salon, where Vivien lands a job. The actual Manchester Reform Synagogue on Jackson’s Row stands in for Rabbi Lehrer’s shul. And while the real Ridley Road is in London, the one viewers see is actually Stamford Street in Tameside, Greater Manchester. Notably, the “S Perlmutter & Sons” fabric shop where the 62 Group meets is an authentic storefront name there.
“Manchester can be adapted to look like almost anything,” Shindler says. “There are really great bits of core architecture that we’ve used to establish London and we [used] CGI as well.” Other locations were nearby in towns like Bolton and Liverpool. “For example, we traveled to Liverpool to do scenes of the riot in Trafalgar Square,” she adds.
How to Watch Ridley Road
with PBS Passportyou can binge all four episodes of Ridley Road in its suspenseful entirety. Learn more about streaming MASTERPIECE shows on Passportan added member benefit.