Every season, GBH Drama prepares to bring you coverage of the latest and greatest in British dramas. This month, we're getting a brand new series from MASTERPIECE: Ridley Road. Featuring intrigue, history, and an often overlooked dramatic storyline, this series does not disappoint. GBH Drama contributor Amanda-Rae Prescott is here to recap the magic as it happens.
Content Warning: sexual assault
The final episode of Ridley Road brings the story of the 62 Group to a satisfying end. However, the journey is fraught with danger for all of our favorite characters. Gathering the evidence necessary to bring Colin Jordan and his fascist co-conspirators to justice won’t be easy. Let’s discuss how the series finale unfolds.
The episode begins with the same scene from Episode 1 where Jane/Vivien gets up from the bed in the mansion and starts singing with Paul. The one detail that Episode 4 reveals is that part of the sheet on the bed that’s folded over is stained with blood. This subtle detail reveals the night before with Jordan was Jane/Vivien's first sexual encounter. After the Nazi salute, this episode shows Vivien continuing to look for the suitcase with all of the weapons invoices. Will she find it?
Jordan calls a meeting of every fascist staying in the house. Lee, the fascist Peter/Jack beat up, is still ill and Eliza is now accusing Peter/Jack of causing it. Jordan orders Eliza to be sent away since she’s pregnant and stressed, and for Vivien to nurse Lee. Peter/Jack pretends to escort Eliza then makes an excuse to go back to meet Jane/Vivien. He tells Jane/Vivien that Jordan knows that she’s lying about her identity because of the engagement announcement in the newspaper. Jane/Vivien is angry that Peter/Jack is now questioning her judgment but she also knows that she can’t call it quits until she finds the suitcase. Jane/Vivien says she sacrificed and “went through hell” to get this far and he should be following her example. That word choice indicates that this description includes sex with Jordan, which the story doesn’t completely unpack. Both Jane/Vivien and Peter/Jack are in trouble, but it’s clear they have to separate in order to improve their odds.
Jane/Vivien asks Paul where the suitcase is but he doesn’t tell her. Jordan then confronts Jane/Vivien and taunts her for their sexual encounter. He compares her to the women who were forced into sex work by Nazi soldiers. He reveals that he knew Jane is really Vivien; he doesn’t mention the paper but he does bring up the butterfly coat hanging up in the salon. Jordan also taunts her by claiming Jane/Vivien really believes deep down that the fascists are right. Jordan slaps Jane/Vivien and her tears are what remind us that she’s not as hardened a spy as others might have been. She may be down, but she isn’t entirely out: she throws a gas canister at Jordan.
“We’re Not Quite The Same But Fighting The Same Fight”
Meanwhile, at Pearlmutter’s, Soly finds several gas canisters. He frantically tries to get rid of them but it’s too late as the police arrest him for arson. Soly knows the fascists are blaming the Jews for the fascist headquarters fire, but he cannot warn the rest of the 62. As the jailers are moving him back to his cell he notices Stevie being moved by another guard into a different cell. Stevie is being charged with Gross Bodily Harm for confronting Rockwell, even though Rockwell got scared and tripped on his own. Soly recognizes Stevie from the synagogue fight and yells to him. Soly calls him a “half-caste boy” which rightfully pisses Stevie off. This is a lesson that just because someone is a member of a historically marginalized group it doesn’t mean that they can’t be prejudiced towards others. Soly finally gets Stevie to hear that he should go to Pearlmutters and warn Vivien and the other members of the 62 that they need to get out of there before they are arrested as well. Stevie gets out of jail but not before the cops subject him to more racist harassment and a body cavity search.
Despite Soly’s initial disrespect, Stevie heads to Pearlmutter’s to pass the message on. He interrupts Barbara and Liza arguing about whose fault it is that Vivien is in danger. Barbara recognizes Stevie from the salon. Stevie realizes that Vivien was indeed an antifascist even though she appeared to be against him originally. This is when Stevie says “we’re not quite the same but fighting the same fight.” Solidarity is a key tool in fighting Jordan’s fascists.
After Jane/Vivien throws the canister at Jordan, she runs to find the suitcase. She follows Paul to an upstairs bedroom where the suitcase is. Paul tells her if she gets what she wants he’ll lose his playmate. His response is to lock the door so that Jane/Vivien can’t leave him. Jane/Vivien thinks on her feet and finds a grate in the ceiling. From the window she sees Peter/Jack being accosted by several fascists including one with a gun. Time is ticking so she climbs through the ceiling with the suitcase. Jane/Vivien scrapes her knees and hands crawling through the dust and broken glass. She finds a hatch leading to the roof. Jane/Vivien swallows whatever fear of heights she didn’t know she had to find a place to throw the suitcase and climb down. She manages to grab the suitcase and run into the woods before Jordan’s men find her.
Peter/Jack wasn’t so lucky with getting away. He ends up in the back of a van with Jeff and others ready to punish him for his betrayal of the cause. Peter/Jack tries to convince Jeff that he’s only involved with the fascists because of his childhood trauma, and that he could be better than that. But Jeff remains committed to the cause so he throws him out of the van with force, not caring if Peter/Jack dies or not. Will someone other than Jordan’s men find an injured Peter/Jack?
Jordan Isn’t Letting Go
Jane/Vivien manages to hitchhike to the train station. Unfortunately, Jordan already figured out her next step would be to try to get back to London so he finds her and sits next to her. Jane/Vivien tries to make a scene to escape Jordan but everyone ignores her as a “hysterical wife”. Jordan tries to force Vivien to reveal everything about her plans but she refuses. As they exit the train, another passenger gives Jordan the suitcase of evidence. Vivien realizes Jordan has associates waiting for him to abduct her so she once again tries to escape with the luggage. At first, no one around her is helping her but then Jordan’s men make too much of a scene. The antifascists are able to stall Jordan and his henchmen long enough for Vivien to return to Pearlmutter’s.
The 62 finally have the evidence they need to bring Jordan down, but Peter/Jack still hasn’t come back yet. There’s a time skip to the following morning where Liza and Barbara wake Vivien up. She’s still bruised and scarred from fighting off Jordan. Barbara helps Vivien recover by returning her hair to its natural brown color. “Jane” is gone.
The (Somewhat) Happily Ever After
Soly arranges for Vivien and her mother to meet with Detective McCracken from Special Branch to hand over the evidence. Vivien shows the detective extensive evidence that Jordan is trying to overthrow the UK government with receipts for the purchase of guns, bomb-making equipment, and more. There is also evidence that he is using disadvantaged white men and teenage boys from borstals (the UK equivalent of juvenile detention centers) for his fascist militia. Unlike the lieutenant from Episode 3, McCracken promises that Jordan and his associates will be punished to the full extent of the law.
The 62 realize that Jordan and his sympathizers will inevitably go after Jane/Vivien if she remains in England because she handed over the evidence. They book Vivien on the next flight to Tel Aviv using Aunt Rosa’s old passport so Vivien has to assume her aunt’s identity. They tell her this isn’t easy but it’s safer for her. Vivien sits down and she’s seated right next to Jack. They hold hands as the screen fades to the epilogue. Vivien and Jack are finally together but most likely he is also using an alias to avoid retribution. In the traditional sense, Vivien and Jack do get their happily ever after, but it comes at the cost of carrying physical and emotional scars. Their future will have to start with healing each other. Viewers find out Jordan was formally arrested for his insurrection attempt a few months later. The title cards also remind viewers that the fight against fascism isn’t over as there are still active fascist groups in the UK and the US trying to replicate what Jordan was doing in the 1960s.
Ridley Road overall did a good job of providing the basic history of the real 62 Group but it is not the complete story. In fact, one of the group members told a UK publication about how the show and the novel exaggerated/changed key details. Some UK critics also pointed out that more of the Jewish characters should have been played by Jewish actors in order to combat modern-day antisemitism in the UK. For American viewers who have only experienced early 1960s Britain through nostalgic period dramas, Ridley Road is an important reminder that the early part decade was a turbulent one in UK society well before the counterculture and Vietnam War protests.