The Cast & Characters of Ridley Road
Set in London in the 1960s, Ridley Road tells a dramatic story and harrowing story inspired by some real-life history. Learn all about the intriguing characters portrayed in the series. Plus, meet the actors behind the roles, find out their impressions of the history that shaped the series, and learn where you’ve seen the cast before.
Agnes O'Casey as Vivien Epstein
The Character: Vivien Epstein is a young Jewish woman from Manchester, England, who rejects her comfortable middle-class life for something more exciting in London.
“She sees the life that is laid out in front of her, and she veers off that path and into the unknown,” actress Agnes O’Casey said of her character. “She takes a leap of faith and runs away to London. Initially she goes to follow Jack, the boy she loves, but she ends up discovering so much more about her own beliefs, her own determination and her own capability.”
Preparing for the Role: Learning about the real life history behind Ridley Road was jarring for O’Casey, who hadn’t known the full extent of hate that permeated the streets of London during the 1960s. “It was a huge shock to see the archive footage of swastikas and people heiling in such recent history… That’s one of the many reasons why it is so brilliant Sarah [Solemani] is writing about this now, this period of our history has been forgotten about.”
Where You’ve Seen Her: Given her impassioned and intelligent performance as Vivien, it may be hard to believe that this is O’Casey’s first role ever .“The idea that my first job would be so perfectly in line with everything I believe in is a dream come true,” O’Casey said.
Rory Kinnear as Colin Jordan
The Character: Colin Jordan is the leader of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement (NSM) in the 1960s, whose inflammatory and hateful rhetoric spread like wildfire.
Preparing for the Role: Rory Kinnear’s role was based on a real-life figure, and it was a hard role to step into.“The language that he uses and the tropes towards the end, that he lazily adheres to, are so abhorrent, Kinnear said. “In the moment during the take, you have to commit to it and believe in it, so the more I read about it, the more distanced and judgmental I found myself becoming of him, as I think most people would be if they’d read anything he’s written.”
The message of the show is an important one even today, Kinnear went on to explain. “I don’t think that this show is being made just as a history piece about the 1960s… it is saying that while it may not be a majority opinion, these repugnant arguments still exist, even in being repeated or given publicity to infect the discourse and politics in general, and we must continue to resist that.”
Where You’ve Seen Him: Kinnear has had an impressive career dating back to the early 2000s. He’s appeared in films such as The Imitation Game, and two James Bond films, Skyfall and Quantum of Solace. Television credits include Penny Dreadful, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, Catherine the Great and Years and Years. He was seen on MASTERPIECE in shows including The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Cranford. Kinnear is also an award-winning stage actor in the UK, recognized for work in Measure for Measure, Hamlet, and The Man of Mode, among others. Kinnear’s father was actor Roy Kinnear (Mr. Salt in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Pipkin in Watership Down, and Planchet in The Three Musketeers).
Tom Varey as Jack Morris
The Character: Jack Morris is a young Jewish man who has devoted his life to fighting fascism with the 62 Group, even going undercover with some of the most hateful, anti-Semitic leaders. He’s in love with Vivien, but can he protect her from the dangers they face?
Telling the Story: For actor Tom Varey, Ridley Road is hard to characterize. “It’s not your average period drama,” Varey said. “There’s romance and it feels very contemporary, it doesn’t feel like a period drama. It’s about spies, it’s thrilling, it’s romantic, it’s really exciting. Underpinning it all is this really strong message that is relevant today, so I think it’s incredibly important and exciting.”
Where You’ve Seen Him: Varey has appeared in television shows including The Village, Ackley Bridge and No Offence. MASTERPIECE fans may recall Varey as Bill Mowbray in Dark Angel, alongside Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt. Next up: Varey is slated to appear in The Boys in the Boat, directed by George Clooney.
Eddie Marsan as Soly Malinovsky
The Character: Soly Malinovsky, uncle to Vivien is a hot headed, sharp-witted cab driver, and leader of the Jewish-led, anti-fascist organization the 62 Group. Soly’s (often controversial) philosophy is to meet the violence of the neo-Nazis with violence of his own, especially as the police continuously seem to refuse to protect the Jewish community.
Still, Soly is a good man, Eddie Marsan explained. “Brave, principled, reckless, terrible short temper, but his heart is in the right place,” he said of his character. “He’s not very articulate and he’s not well educated. He’s more of a street fighter than an academic.”
Why He Took the Role: Marsan had met writer Sarah Solemani through a mutual acquaintance. “Sarah contacted me and said that she wrote the part of Soly with me in mind and asked if I would do it,” he said. “When Sarah approached me about doing this project, I thought that I always wanted to put my talent and my crafts to good use, especially fighting racism.”
It was a powerful story that Marsan felt passionate about telling. “The story inspired me, the part of Soly inspired me. The way it showed working class Jewish people taking a stand. I mean it was only twenty years after the end of World War II. These characters have uncles, aunts and parents that died in the Holocaust. So, they’re also dealing with generational trauma. I found the story inspirational because it showed that if ordinary people take a stand against racism, then they can make a difference.”
Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Actor Marsan has had a notable career going back to the late 1980s. On television, Marsan starred in the hit TV series Ray Donovan as Terry Donovan, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell as Mr. Norrell, and on MASTERPIECE in Little Dorrit as Pancks. His film credits include: Gangs of New York, The Illusionist, Happy-Go-Lucky, Vera Drake and V for Vendetta among many others.
Tracy-Ann Oberman as Nancy Malinovsky
The Character: Nancy Malinovsky, Soly’s glamourous wife, is another passionate activist who plays a crucial role in the operations of the 62 Group. When Vivien shows up in London, Nancy takes her under her wing.
“She’s brave, fearless, clever, passionate about fighting Nazis, proud of her community and her Jewish identity,” Tracy-Ann Oberman said of Nancy. “She goes out of her way to be a really important member, almost like the brains behind the 62 group, fighting Colin Jordan and the NSM.”
Why She Took the Role: The story was one that resonated deeply with Oberman, who has her own personal connections with the real-life 62 Group. “I had family members who talked about being a part of the group and I know a man who is a leading member of the community who was a big part of the group,” she said. “The 62 Group represents how communities can take things into their own hands.”
As someone who knew the history of the group and still learned new details about it while starring in Ridley Road, she feels strongly that people should know what really happened. “I feel that this bit of history has been forgotten,” she said. “This story is a reminder of what happens when you allow racism, particularly anti-Semitism to flourish.”
Oberman hopes that the audience feels the impact of the story being told. “We have to stop othering minorities and protect them. If the authorities aren’t going to protect them, then the community should take it into their own hands and that’s what this story reminds us.”
Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Oberman has appeared in series such as Doctor Who, Casualty, and EastEnders. She also appeared in Season 5 of Grantchester as Sister Grace.
Gabriel Akuwudike as Stevie
The Character: Stevie, a student and anti-racist activist, is keen to get Vivien involved in his activism after she joins the staff at his mother’s (Barbara’s) salon. Stevie faces his own battles against discrimination as a young man of color, and is often hassled by the police.
“He’s someone who’s been born in the 40’s, and to be mixed race at that time is emblematic in itself of being political,” Gabriel Akuwidike explained of his character. “I think what he serves in the story is someone who understands what it is to be political in your very existence.”
Preparing for the Role: Akuwudike also knew little of the real life history that inspired the story, and it was a impactful lesson for him. “I was just absolutely blown away by the fact this stuff actually happened – I had to double check!”
“I think one of the beauties of this series is that it shows how communities can work together fighting oppression — oppression being something that any and all humans are capable of enacting. And in the same way, all humans are capable of having immense amounts of compassion and allyship and empathy for one another… it might make people see that one of the most powerful things we have is our humanity, and when we see suffering and oppression, that we can make a stand against it in a peaceful way.”
Where You’ve Seen Him: Prior to Ridley Road, Akuwudike appeared in the Academy Award-winning film 1917. On television, he’s been seen in series including Game of Thrones, War of the Worlds and Hanna.