Ripper Street star Anna Burnett: I play the daughter Reid thought died six years ago!

(Image credit: BBC/Tiger Aspect 2014/Bernard Wa)

As Ripper Street continues, Detective Inspector Edmund Reid is finally reunited with his daughter, Mathilda, who's been missing, presumed dead, for six years. 

A few weeks ago, scheming brothel keeper Long Susan discovered the girl being held captive by Horace Buckley, a business associate of her crooked partner Capshaw. But when Capshaw killed Buckley’s wife, Long Susan hid Mathilda away and lied to Reid that the girl had died to keep the police from poking around in Capshaw’s affairs. But now, Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake has discovered that the girl is alive and goes to tells his boss.  

What's On TV talks to actress Anna Burnett, who plays Mathilda, about the emotional reunion…


Mathilda's recently been found, but where has she been all this time?

"She’s been locked in the basement of a shop by its slightly strange owners, Horace and Clara Buckley – who couldn’t have children. They've been living a sort of fantasy life through her – she was told she was a magic fairy and brainwashed to believe her dad was a wicked king. But after she was discovered by Capshaw, Long Susan took her under her wing, but told Reid that although Mathilda had been found, she was too cruelly abused by the Buckleys and died from her injuries. That’s why he ran away in despair. But it was actually a lie to cover up the fact that Long Susan is hiding Mathilda away."


Mathilda's given Long Susan the slip, though, hasn't she? Where is she now?

"Mathilda’s had quite a difficult childhood because, obviously, she was taken away from her family when she was nine years old. So when she escapes when she’s 15, she’s still like a nine year old socially, so I think she finds it quite hard to be aware of what’s safe and what’s not, and where she is and her surroundings. And, of course, it’s quite confusing for her because she’s been brainwashed by the Buckleys, so she’s been told what she’s not, but she doesn’t know what she is quite yet."


She's a bit confused and rambling all sorts of nonsense, isn't she?

"Yes, she's very confused and disjointed because she realises she’s not a fairy princess. I spoke to a child pyschotherapist before I did the filming which was really intereresting. He told me how things would sporadically come back to her and she wouldn’t really be able to explain it and she doesn’t really know what it means, but she knows where home is and that home is safe.

"It’s really interesting how it’s not clear in her mind, but it all sort of comes together towards the end of the episode."


What happens after Reid and Mathilda are finally reunited?

"It's difficult because Mathilda’s suddenly in a new place and she needs to piece her life back together. It’s interesting because they are drawn to living by the sea and getting away from Whitechapel, but at the same time he has a constant love for the place and a constant need to police the area. So he’s in two minds because he want to leave with his daughter, but at the same time is drawn to the romanticism of policing and saving lives when in fact there are other people who are there to do it instead of him. I think he finds that quite hard to understand." 


How does Mathilda adapt to her new-found freedom?

"What happens is that Mathilda is really curious about her life around her because she’s still discovering who she is, which means she’s constantly running away and wanting to see what’s in Whitechapel and what’s around her. So she actually becomes quite a nuisance to everyone around her and her dad and her governess because she’s contantly running away and wanting to explore the city around her, because she’s been in a basement for six years, she's been away from it all.

"I think it’s quite exciting for her, but a bit of a nuisance to everyone else." 


Does she come into any danger?

"No, I think she’s quite well protected. But Reid gets very paranoid because she keeps running off and wanting to escape and explore Whitechapel. It takes quite a toll on him. She actually manages to steer clear of danger, but it’s more about how she affects the people around her so he needs to have a constant eye on her because you don’t know what she’s going to do because she’s in a new world."


Have you enjoyed filming on the show?

"I’ve loved it, it’s been really great. And being around really experienced actors has made me feel a lot more comfortable on set and has a made it a really fun experience. It’s like a family. It doesn’t matter about age or anything, but you don’t really notice because you’re all in it together."


How did you find coming into a series like Ripper Street with an established cast?

"It was great. I thought everyone was really welcoming. I’d done a film before, but not a series, so I found everyone was really supportive and wanted to help me. Everyone made me feel really comfortable and that was really important for me. And it meant I could perform to the best of my ability rather than feeling uncomfortable and unsure on set."


Can you tell us anything about the next series?

"I think Mathilda still has a curious streak and she really likes to explore. She and Reid manage to spend some time together by the sea. She’s been going to school and has been taught to stay in line.  She’s a lot more grounded than she in in series three. It will be interesting because she will be a lot older – 18 instead of 15 – but she still has those traits she had when she is 15. I start filming soon! I'm excited."


Ripper Street screens on BBC1, Friday at 9pm.



Patrick McLennan

Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix. 

An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.