It was six Christmas Eves ago when the first instalment of the Wireless Theatre Company’s saga about the Victorian myth Spring-heeled Jack first appeared. Beginning with a prologue about a fire on Scratch Row, we have followed Detective Jonah Smith from boy to man and now potentially to the grave, and this ninth and concluding episode at last promises a resolution to the mystery of Smith’s unidentified adversary.
We join Smith in the company of one-time rival and reluctant companion Hopcraft, deep beneath the scene of their introduction into this narrative, and on the precipice of their quarry’s underground lair. But before they can finally settle an identity for the damaged Jack, there’s the matter of the German bounty hunters who have been dogging Smith’s progress throughout this third series. This Springheel story has long combined a foreshadowing political backbone to its supernatural main text, and the interplay between the various parties – both historical and fictional, of course – always feels a natural accompaniment, rather than a distraction. There is even a small cameo for Queen Victoria, a almost unrecognisably restrained former companion of Doctor Who; the second time this year this has happened.
There are few shocks or surprises in Parker and Valentine’s story. Events unfold pretty much as you hope they might, albeit with a sudden dovetailing towards Spielberg in the final act, after eight half-hours of Conan Doyle meets Bram Stoker. As much as it has been an intrigue and a thriller, the Springheel saga has also been an adventure and a rollick. What was entirely unexpected was the emotional impact of this final episode; rather than fireworks, The Lords of the World – a title whose dual meaning only really sinks in once the play has long finished playing – opts for a languid, gradual unravelling of narrative and character, wrapping up the plot around two-thirds of the way through so that it can focus on its significance thereafter. Without resorting to sentiment, the drama nevertheless provokes a genuinely affecting response.
One of the joys of this story has been how, despite a wry sense of humour, the script and cast have always played things straight. And the cast – including Julian Glover and Nicholas Parsons in previous instalments, and the likes of David Benson, giving a glorious Disraeli, Matthew Kelly and Shane Rimmer here – have been fantastic, the odd cod-German accent aside. But really the plaudits belong to Christopher Finney, often underplaying as Jonah Smith and yet creating a charismatic backbone to the saga out of a terse, troubled and occasionally ill-tempered individual. It’s been a pleasure to spend time in his company, and he – along with the rest of the Springheel saga – will be sorely missed.
THE SECRET OF SPRINGHEEL’D JACK SERIES 3 EPISODE THREE: THE LORDS OF THE WORLD / DIRECTOR: ROBERT VALENTINE / WRITER: GARETH PARKER, ROBERT VALENTINE / STARRING: CHRISTOPHER FINNEY, ANDREW SHEPHERD, JONATHAN HANSLER, JENNY RUNACRE, DAVID BENSON, MATTHEW KELLY, SHANE RIMMER, KATY MANNING / PUBLISHER: WIRELESS THEATRE COMPANY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW