The Yorkshire Ripper has been the subject of many documentaries and dramas since his arrest in 1981, including Netflix’s The Ripper and an episode of Crimes That Shook Britain. But The Long Shadow focuses less on serial killer Peter Sutcliffe and more on his victims.
The drama looks at the hunt for the man who killed 13 women and attempted to murder seven others – and the lives he ruined in the process. Former Coronation Street actress Katherine Kelly plays Sutcliffe’s second victim, 42-year-old mother-of-three Emily Jackson. “It was very clear that this was a re-examination of that story,” Katherine, 43, says. “There’s no need for any more shows about Peter Sutcliffe. It’s well documented. But what isn’t well documented is the victims, and the victims that survived. It was clear that the spotlight was on them.”
Originally planned to be called The Yorkshire Ripper, the series was renamed after negative feedback from victims’ families.
The seven-part drama has an all-star cast, including Toby Jones and Lee Ingleby as detectives Dennis Hoban and Jim Hobson, who led the hunt for the ripper. Daniel Mays plays Emily’s husband, Sydney, and former Emmerdale star Charley Webb appears as WPC Anna Lawson.
For 45-year-old Daniel, signing up for The Long Shadow was a “no-brainer” after having worked with writer George Kay on biopic Des, about another serial killer, Dennis Nilsen. “The script has got heart, an amazing truth and integrity to it,” he says.
The first few episodes of The Long Shadow focus on the Jackson family from Leeds, whose dire financial straits forced Emily to turn to prostitution for extra cash.
“The dilemma they faced was almost Shakespearean, the stakes were that high. Communication between Emily and Sydney had fallen down completely,” says Katherine. “For Emily, the fear and terror that was looming was not this serial killer – because there had only been one murder – but the fear and terror of being evicted and not being able to feed the family.
“She taught herself to drive, they had animals, she had three jobs. She did all the books for Sydney’s company, but she’s trying to navigate in a world where he is the head of the family and she’s Mrs Sydney Jackson.”
Daniel describes Sydney as a man “sleepwalking through life” following the death of one of his sons.
“It felt like a fully formed three-dimensional marriage with all of its complexities. [Director] Lewis Arnold always described Sydney as metaphorically impotent.
“Emily was the driving force of that household. Sydney couldn’t read and write, he couldn’t drive. I was fascinated by this man from the 1970s.”
Daniel and Katherine were able to tell Emily and Sydney’s story in great detail thanks to their son, Neil, who gave the project his blessing. “He was satisfied with what we did,” Daniel says, admitting that he’d been nervous at the prospect of meeting Neil before filming started.
“I was thinking, ‘Hang about, why have I asked to do this?’ I wasn’t quite sure how to broach it. How do you talk about it? But he was so generous and so open with the vulnerability that he showed to me in the meeting. It really helped fuel the performance,” he adds.
“He talked a lot about his dynamic with his dad and the first thing he said to me was, ‘You’re the poor bastard who has to play my dad.’ So there was no love lost there really. As actors, you have to go there, don’t you?”
It wasn’t long after entering the world of prostitution that Emily was killed. She became a sex worker just before Christmas 1975 and was picked up and murdered by Sutcliffe just a few weeks later, in January 1976.
Yorkshire-born Katherine was only one when he was arrested on 2 January 1981, but the killings still cast a dark shadow over her childhood. “You won’t meet anybody where I’m from that doesn’t have some association with Peter Sutcliffe or his family or where he worked or the police officers who caught him,” she says. “I knew so much without knowing I knew so much.
“Anybody 10 years older than me remembers it in the way that we’ll all remember Covid. It changed what people did and how people ran their lives because there was a monster on the loose and it could be your neighbour, your brother, your dad…”
While filming The Long Shadow was intense, it was brief, so it didn’t continue to haunt the actors beyond the set, as Des did Daniel.
“I remember when I did Des and I had nightmares that I was locked in an attic with Dennis Nilsen. I woke my wife up screaming, it took my voice. For whatever reason, that case really got under my skin,” he says. “But we were done with The Long Shadow after three weeks.”
Although Daniel and Katherine were at the same drama school in the early noughties, this was their first joint project. “Danny and I were at RADA together. He was the year above me, so I’ve seen a lot of Danny’s early work,” Katherine says. “We’ve known each other for a long time and I’ve always wanted to work with him.”
But the actor was left red-faced after telling Katherine to slap him in one scene. “I said, ‘Don’t hold back, just go for it.’ I think she went a beat too soon and it was full-on. It was a big old slap,” he laughs.
Katherine adds, “I know – I’m from Barnsley.”
The Long Shadow tonight at 9pm on ITV1
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