Ridley Road: the BBC’s new anti-fascist thriller set in swinging sixties London

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Ridley Road is a new four-part thriller from BBC One based on the story of a Jewish hairdresser who goes undercover in a neo-Nazi organisation in 1960s London.  

Anti-semitism is at an all-time high in Britain right now – which makes a new period drama by the BBC all the more vital. 

Ridley Road tells the story of Vivien Epstein, a Jewish hairdresser from Manchester who goes undercover with a neo-Nazi organisation operating in 1960s London. She’s an unlikely hero who is propelled into action after a brief and intense love affair with a missing man operating at the heart of the capital’s anti-fascist movement.

With a 25% rise in violent anti-semitic assaults last year (amid a wider surge of racism), Ridley Road may be set in the streets battles of the East End in 1962. But its story of anti-racism – and the ordinary people with an extraordinary will to fight the good fight – is more relevant than ever. The thriller also casts a light on the darker side of the glamorous swinging sixties.

Here’s everything you need to know about the new four-part BBC One drama, adapted from a bestselling novel

What’s Ridley Road all about?

An adaptation of the critically acclaimed book by Jo Bloom, Ridley Road tells the story of a young Jewish hairdresser, Vivien, who is drawn into the fight against fascism in 1960s London. Vivien trades her comfortable life in Manchester for the capital after falling in love with Jack, a member of the 62 Group of Jewish men battling neo-Nazism in post-war Britain.

When Jack goes missing, Vivian decides to go undercover at NSM, one of London’s leading neo-Nazi movements: a dangerous mission that will take her face-to-face with the dark resurgence of fascism on the East End streets. As she becomes evermore entangled in the murky world of neo-Nazism, Vivian’s loyalties and courage are tested to the limits. Amid a growing sense of tension and violent unrest, can her love for Jack survive?

Ridley Road will spotlight the little-known story of vicious anti-semitism in the 1960s; as played out in street fights around Ridley Road in London’s East End. Expect compelling drama focused on ordinary men and women putting their lives on the line in a fight against racism, along with evocative scenes of Soho, Vivien’s other stomping ground, in the early 60s. 

Who stars in Ridley Road?

Ridley Road’s protagonist Vivien is played by newcomer Aggi O’Casey, in her first TV role. She’s joined by Game of Thrones star Tom Varey as her erstwhile lover Jack. “I’m so proud to be working on such a powerful, beautiful, important story,” Varey says. “The scripts are amazing, and I can’t wait to bring them to life.”

Rory Kinnear plays Colin, the fanatical leader of neo-Nazi movement NSM, with Eddie Marsan as hot-headed cab driver Soly – Colin’s rival and head of the anti-fascist 62 Group. Tracy-Ann Oberman will take on the part of Soly’s wife, Nancy, while Samantha Spiro (Sex Education) is cast as Vivien’s mother, Liza Epstein. 

EastEnders actor Tamzin Outhwaite is also on-board for the series as Barbara, the owner of a hair salon in Soho where Vivien gets a job. Barbara has witnessed racism first-hand towards her mixed-race son.

Bloom’s book has been adapted for TV by award-winning writer Sarah Solemani (who also appears as an actor in Bridget Jones’ Baby). “A young hairdresser from Manchester makes an unlikely hero in this little known slice of British history,” Solemani says. “But in these unprecedented times, it is the unlikely heroes whose stories are now worth telling.”

Is there a trailer for Ridley Road?

Not yet, no: but our eyes are peeled for when it lands, and we’ll update this article pronto. 

When does Ridley Road come out?

Production on the four-part drama began in September. It will air sometime next year on BBC One.

Images: BBC/Red Productions/Ben Blackall

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.