Ridley Road: Political thriller shines a light on the darker side of the Swinging Sixties

Sarah Solemani’s gripping four-part adaptation of Jo Bloom’s novel for the BBC tells the tale of a young Jewish hairdresser who becomes an unlikely hero in the post-war fight against fascism.

By Rhys Lewis Published: 7 December 2021 - 11.49pm
BBC Ridley Road

While sixties London conjures up images of colourful fashions, cool coffee bars, chic models and a pop music revolution, BBC One drama Ridley Road presents a very different side of the capital, in which ordinary men and women are fighting back against a rise in neo-fascism.

The four-part adaptation of Jo Bloom’s novel is coming to BBC One and iPlayer in October, and promises four hours of gripping drama based around real events and covering a little-known part of British history.

Boasting an impressive cast and crew, Ridley Road will be one of the must-watch events of the autumn TV schedule.

What is Ridley Road about?

Neo-fascist march in Ridley Road BBC/Red Productions

Set in the summer of 1962, Ridley Road follows 20-year-old Vivien Epstein, a Jewish hairdresser, as she arrives in London from Manchester.

Vivien finds work in a hair salon in Soho, the epicentre of the cultural revolution that was the Swinging Sixties. But while she is swept up in the colourful fashions and music of the era, she cannot overlook her real reason for coming to the capital – to find her missing boyfriend Jack Morris.

When she discovers Jack has been badly injured, she finds herself getting involved in the 62 Group, a coalition of Jewish Men standing up against rising neo-fascism in and around the East End street of the title.

In order to save Jack, Vivien infiltrates the National Socialist Movement (NSM), a neo-Nazi movement which is becoming increasingly prominent in London. As Vivien descends further into the fascist organisation, both her courage and loyalties are challenged.

Who wrote Ridley Road?

Ridley Road has been adapted from Jo Bloom’s 2014 novel of the same name by award-winning actress and screenwriter Sarah Solemani.

Solemani, below, best known for starring in Him & Her, Bad Education and Bridget Jones’ Baby, said that the book and the TV series celebrates the Jewish community’s fight against fascism in the post-war years, while also raising issues that are still relevant today.

Sarah Solemani Karwai Tang

“Britain’s relationship with fascism is closer and more alive than we like to think,” she said.

“Luckily, so is our rich heritage of fighting it. Jo Bloom’s gripping book revealed a darker side of sixties London and the staggering contribution the Jewish community made in the battle against racism.

“In these unprecedented times, it is the unlikely heroes whose stories are now worth telling.”

Executive producer Nicola Shindler agrees that the social tensions in the story are still present in twenty-first century Britain.

“It’s hugely exciting to adapt this story into a drama. I loved the book, and Sarah’s script has brilliantly captured the passionate love story coupled with the social tensions amid the rise of fascism and the vivid wonderment of the swinging sixties.

“While it’s set during a relatively unknown part of British history, Ridley Road echoes what is happening today with the growing rhetoric against people of a different race or nationality, and it feels like a really timely drama to bring to audiences.”

Who’s in the cast of Ridley Road?

Agnes O’Casey plays Vivien Epstein

Agnes O'Casey as Vivien Epstein in Ridley Road BBC/Red Productions

Ridley Road marks Aggi O’Casey’s television debut, having appeared in stage productions for the Lir Academy – Ireland’s National Academy of Dramatic Art – and as Lily in Druid Theatre’s production of Thomas Kilroy’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull this summer. O’Casey is well versed in the theatre – her great-grandfather was Irish dramatist Seán O’Casey.

“Sarah Solemani has blown me away with the detail, sensitivity, and complexity with which she has written Vivien,” said O’Casey. “I can’t wait to bring this vital and little-known story to life.”

Tom Varey plays Jack Morris

Tom Varey as Jack Morris in Ridley Road BBC/Red Productions

Tom Varey plays Jack, Vivien’s boyfriend whose disappearance brings her to London.

“I’m so proud to be working on such a powerful, beautiful, important story,” said Varey.

“The scripts are amazing, and I can’t wait to bring them to life. I’m excited to be in the company of actors that I have looked up to and admired for so long.”

Where have you seen Tom Varey before?

Tom has appeared in The Village, Ackley Bridge and as PC Stuart O'Connell in Channel 4 drama No Offence.

‘I thought the 60s was all peace, love and rock ‘n’ roll!’ - 7 Questions with Tom Varey

Rory Kinnear plays Colin Jordan

Rory Kinnear and Agnes O'Casey in Ridley Road BBC/Red Productions

Kinnear plays Colin Jordan, leader of the National Socialist Movement, the neo-Nazi organisation infiltrated by Vivien in Ridley Road. In real life, Jordan was a leading far-right figure in post-war Britain, and after founding the NSM was instrumental in creating the World Union of National Socialists.

Where have you seen Rory Kinnear before?

Penny Dreadful, Years and Years, Bill Tanner in four James Bond films.

Tamzin Outhwaite plays Barbara Watson

Tamzin Outhwaite as Barbara Watson in Ridley Road BBC/Red Productions

Outhwaite plays Barbara Watson, the owner of the Soho hair salon where Vivien gets a job. Barbara has witnessed racism first-hand towards her mixed-race son.

Where have you seen Tamzin Outhwaite before?

Since finding fame playing Mel Owen in EastEnders from 1998, Outhwaite has starred in army drama Red Cap and the BBC’s New Tricks.

Eddie Marsan plays Soly Malinovsky

Eddie Marsan as Soly Malinovsky in Ridley Road BBC/Red Productions

Marsan plays the hot headed, sharp-witted cab driver Soly Malinovsky - leader of anti-fascist organisation 62 Group which Vivien encounters in London.

“I'm honoured to be playing the role of Soly, the leader of the '62' Group of Jewish anti-fascists who took on the National Socialist Movement in Ridley Road,” Marsan said.

“In recent years anti-Semitism has re-emerged and now, more than ever we need to hear the stories of how normal men and women put their lives on the line to stamp out this cancer.”

Where have you seen Eddie Marsan before?

Marsan has a long list of film and TV credits to his name, including Terry Donovan in US crime drama Ray Donovan and roles in BBC series River and The Pact. Big-screen roles include Reg in Vera Drake and an award-winning performance as driving instructor Scott in 2008 film Happy-Go-Lucky.

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Tracy-Ann Oberman plays Nancy Malinovsky

Tracy-Ann Oberman as Nancy Malinovsky in Ridley Road BBC/Red Productions

Tracy-Ann Oberman plays Soly’s wife Nancy, a smooth operator who plays a crucial role in the operations of 62 Group.

Where have you seen Tracy-Ann Oberman before?

Widely known for playing Chrissie Watts in EastEnders, Oberman will also be familiar as Auntie Val in Friday Night Dinner, and recently played Carol Carter in award-winning Channel 4 drama It’s a Sin. She has also narrated many TV shows including Escape to the Chateau.

Samantha Spiro plays Liza Epstein

Samantha Spiro as Liza Epstein in Ridley Road BBC/Red Productions

Spiro plays Vivien’s mother, Liza. Her life is about to dramatically change when she learns of her husband’s secret involvement with the underground movement.

Where have you seen Samantha Spiro before?

Samantha Spiro is currently playing Maureen Groff in the Netflix series Sex Education. She has won two Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Actress in a Musical and has played Barbara Windsor on stage and screen, most recently in the 2017 biopic Babs.

Rita Tushingham plays Nettie Jones

Rita Tushingham as Nettie Jones in Ridley Road BBC/Red Productions

Tushingham plays Vivien’s London landlady Nettie Jones. Although self-sufficient, she is lonely after her three sons were killed in World War II and is afraid of the pace of the changes happening around her.

Where have you seen Rita Tushingham before?

Rita Tushingham has appeared on screen for 60 years since making her Bafta-winning debut in 1961 movie A Taste of Honey. She appeared in David Lean’s 1965 epic Doctor Zhivago and more recently has made appearances in New Tricks, Vera and BBC One thriller The Pale Horse.

Will Keen plays David Epstein

Will Keen as David Epstein in Ridley Road BBC/Red Productions

Manchester tailor David Epstein is the head of the family and protector of his wife Liza, daughter Vivien and neice Roza, a survivor of the Holocaust. His business affairs and Vivien's marriage seem to casue him concern, but is there more to his dealings than meets the eye?

Where have you seen Will Keen before?

Will Keen appeared as the Queen's Private Secretary Michael Adeane in seasons 3 and 4 of The Crown and played Father MacPhail in the BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials - his daughter Dafne starred as Lyra.

Danny Sykes plays Ronnie Malinovsky

Danny Sykes as Ronnie Malinovsky in Ridley Road BBC/Red Productions

Sykes plays Soly and Nancy's son Ronnie. The clever and witty young man idolises his father and is as committed to the 62 Group's cause as his parents, helping to plan their operations from their Ridley Road HQ.

Where have you seen Danny Sykes before?

Danny has appeared as Luke in two episodes of Bulletproof.

Danny Hatchard plays Lee

Danny Hatchard (second left) plays Lee in Ridley Road BBC/Red Productions

Hatchard (above, second left) plays Colin Jordan’s driver Lee. The NSM is family to him, he is loyal to Colin even though the feeling isn’t mutual.

Where have you seen Danny Hatchard before?

Hatchard is best known for playing Lee Carter in EastEnders and Rhett Charlton in series 4 of Our Girl.

Is there a trailer?

The BBC released the trailer below, introducing us to Ridley Road's main characters, on September 12.

When is Ridley Road on TV?

Ridley Road is broadcast on BBC One at 9pm on Sundays from October 3.

All four episodes are available to watch now on BBC iPlayer.