Review - From Hell


Directed by the Hughes Brothers; written by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias.

One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the Twentieth Century.
- Jack the Ripper (1888)

The crimson sky over London is forewarning of the deaths to come. Eerie green lanterns light the way for a carriage that roams the streets of the Whitechapel district. The intended victims: five prostitutes who work the squalid and darkened streets of London. They are also victims of economic hardships, street gang extortionists, and the apathy of a puritanical and duplicitous society.

The detective in charge of the infamous Whitechapel murders is Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp), who uses his powers of precognition to aid the ever increasing demand to bring the identity of the murderer to light. His investigation is hindered by an apathetic bureaucracy who is more interested in finding a scapegoat; and in a country where class differences rule they are more than eager to pick a Jew, an Oriental or a socialist to put the blame on.

As the mystery unfolds it becomes clear that the prostitutes (often referred to as ‘bangtails’ and ‘pinch-pricks’) are not just the hapless victims of some misogynist madman, but also the targets of an elaborate cover-up operation to hide a secret that might bring the entire British Empire crashing down. This cover up included the grandson of Queen Victoria -Prince Albert; the fellowship of the Free Masons – a fraternal order with a rather dubious reputation, as well as the special branch of the London Metropolitan Police.

During its making the Hughes brothers spared no details in the representing the squalor and misery of nineteenth century London. The supporting cast is brilliant. Ian Holm (Sir William Gull) plays the surgeon that the Inspector refers to for the precise nature of the crime. Jason Flemyng (Netley) plays the cabby who drives the Ripper through dark lanes of Whitechapel. Robbie Coltrane (um, Hagrid?) plays the sarcastic Sergeant Godley who provides many poetic insights into the gory crimes. Heather Graham plays the role of the Irishwoman prostitute Mary Kelly, and she does look lovely with the red hair and intense blue eyes. However, she seems untouched by the misery of walking the streets like others of her circle of friends.

The title in question is in reference to a note, amongst several others, that the police received from men claiming to be Jack the Ripper. This particular one, addressed ‘From Hell’ was accompanied by a kidney, one of organs besides others that went missing from one of the victims, and is speculated to be from the actual killer.

The film does not fail to put forward the gross fascination the public has with killing of these 'morally degraded' women. There are always eager spectators at the crime scene, hankering the police to "show us the body!"

To those who don’t know the details of the Whitechapel case, and might think this was another elaborately spun yarn about the identity of the Ripper, there was actually evidence in the direction of the royal family being involved, of a well kept secret as well as the note addressed ‘From Hell’ that the police actually did receive from the Ripper, or a man claiming to be the Ripper, in 1888.

The rest of course is creative license.

From Hell’ is based on the graphic novel by writer Alan Moore and the artist Eddie Campbell.

-Rhea Daniel

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