The International Writers Magazine

From Hell - A Jack the Ripper Film (2001)
Directed by Albert Hughes/ Allen Hughes
starring Johnny Depp, Heather Graham
Kerry Savage

t’s 1888, the year of the most notorious and enigmatic serial killer that England has ever known; Jack the Ripper. This is the setting for American director’s the Hughes brothers’ creation, From Hell. The film was released in October 2001 and is loosely based on the graphic novel also titled From Hell, by Alan Moore (Written in 1999).

Starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, among an all star British cast including Ian Holm and Robbie Coltrane, the film should scream out to be a blockbuster success. The film follows some of the most controversial theories behind the identity of the infamous ripper.

The facts have been well researched for the making of From Hell. Actually shot in Prague, the film set is a believable replica of the Whitechapel district in Victorian London, where the ghastly murders of five prostitutes took place. The directors have kept the name of the victims including the ripper’s last target, Mary Kelly, played by Heather Graham. The film looks closely at the victims’ lives before they met their fate and concentrates on capturing the poverty and violence of London in the late nineteenth century. The title From Hell is after a letter, allegedly from Jack the Ripper, which was signed 'from Hell'. However the title is also about the hell that is the characters everyday lives. This includes the life of Johnny Depp’s character, Inspector Abberline, named and based on the Inspector that actually did investigate the Ripper case. Inspector Abberline struggles to deal with his memories of his dead wife so turns to opium for comfort which often causes him to have psychic visions that help him solve his cases. The film includes some chilling cinematography to show these clairvoyant sightings of the Inspector’s.

One of the most intriguing characters’ in the film however is that of Prince Albert Victor, Queen Victoria’s grandson and was then heir to the throne. Prince Albert Victor was accused of being Jack the Ripper in 1970 in the works of a Dr. Thomas Stowell. An article published in The Criminologist claimed the prince suffered from syphilis which sent him insane and caused him to commit the horrific murders. This has since been deemed impossible as Prince Albert was not in the country when most of these murders took place. Stowell said his primary source for his article was the private papers of a Sir William Gull, who allegedly treated the prince. The directors’ experimented with this theory in From Hell and used the character of Sir William Gull, played by Ian Holm, to create their own conclusion to the ripper tale.

From Hell is a controversial film as it intertwines the different theories behind Jack the Ripper, especially those that focus on the involvement of the monarchy. One of the more believable possibilities is presented in a book by Stephen Knight called Jack the Ripper, the Final Solution. The book tells the story of Joseph Sickert, a man who claims to be Prince Albert’s grandson. According to Sickert, Prince Albert had a secret marriage to a young girl named Annie Crook, a former prostitute, who then had a daughter by him named Alice. Queen Victoria found out about her grandson’s love affair and strongly disapproved. This was a secret the monarchy could not afford to be broadcasted, as their reputation was on the line. However even though the couple were separated, the secret was known to Annie’s closest friends, also prostitutes. It was said these women then tried to use this to their advantage and blackmail Lord Salisbury, the Queen’s prime minister. The monarchy then decided the women had to be silenced and called the help of Sir William Gull, a surgeon and alleged member of the secret society the freemasons. This theory makes him a likely suspect of the Ripper case.

The film makes interesting viewing and has a suitable amount of gore to convey the barbarity of the murders. The film boasts a strong cast and the British actors do the film proud, especially Ian Holm as the intelligent and devious Sir William Gull. Johnny Depp on the other hand is slightly disappointing as the lead role of Inspector Abberline, as his pseudo British accent is unstable and in some parts cringe worthy, a detail that the American public probably did not notice when the film was released there first.
The film also has other small faults such as the whereabouts of baby Alice, the baby daughter of Prince Albert and his prostitute lover. In one scene she is mentioned as being sent to her mother’s parents, and then she is forgotten about till the end of the film, where she is then collected from an orphanage. It seems that was one small detail the director’s neglected when making this film. Despite these flaws From Hell is a clever psychological thriller that gives a credible representation of the lives of the Victorian people that lived through this brutal and hellish time. The film will keep you glued to your seat as the identity of the cold blooded Jack the Ripper is finally revealed and with the use of some very clever camera work the ending should not disappoint.
© Kerry Savage December 2005

Kerry is a Creative Writing Major at the University of Portsmouth

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