From Hell Review
‘One day, men will look back and say that I gave birth to the twentieth century’- Jack the Ripper
The film is about Jack the Ripper, aka the most infamous unsolved case of all time. Everyone knows the story now, surely as unpleasant a serial killing spree as ever existed; an unknown and methodical murderer did away with 5 prostitutes in the East End of London towards the end of the 19th century, becoming infamous in the process, with knock-on effects ranging from the rise of the tabloids to the innovation of forensic science. However, speculation has been rife ever since as to who ‘Saucy Jack’, as the Spinal Tap boys so memorably christened him, actually was. Some have argued that he was a Jewish doctor, others that he was Montague John Druitt, a brilliant doctor with a loathing of prostitutes after he contracted syphilis from one of them. However, From Hell, as based on Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s seminal graphic novel, proposes a far more elaborate, intriguing and ultimately convincing conspiracy theory as has yet been seen on screen.
It’s therefore a shame to give away too much of the actual plot, but it’s worth mentioning that the framework concerns Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp) and his Shakespeare-quoting sidekick Godley (Robbie Coltrane) as they attempt both to uncover the conspiracy and stop the Ripper, before he gets to Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) and her fellow whores, who may just know more about one of their friends’ past lives than the shadowy figures of power might like them to know. The scene is thus set for a gripping, thrilling look into the heart of darkness that was Victorian London, including such detours as the appearance of John Merrick, the Elephant Man.
The film is, essentially, a series of exceptionally good ideas, both in terms of plot and execution. A large part of the credit can be given to whoever picked the Hughes brothers, the directors of Menace 2 Society and Dead Presidents, to direct; they bring a stunning visual style to the film, which has a kind of nightmarish quality to it throughout, and the effect is much the same as the choice of Shekhar Kapur to direct Elizabeth proved to be; namely, a fresh and original look at material that, despite the strong twists and turns, could have ended up being little more than Merchant Ivory with serial killers. Instead, we essentially have Seven, as set in Victorian England; although this might initially seem like a lazy comparison, it’s an apt way of describing the creeping sense of dread and degradation that both films share.
The cast is utterly superb, with Depp and Graham both adopting pretty fine East End accents (although, given that Mary Kelly was Irish, she has mixed up countries somewhat!), and the rest of the fine cast including such great actors as Ian ‘Bilbo Baggins’ Holm, Ian ‘Francis Urquhart’ Richardson’ and, er, Jason ‘the thin one from Lock, Stock’ Flemyng. The cinematography and production design are top-notch, with the use of Prague settings giving the film a slightly surreal, dreamlike quality that fits perfectly with the atmospheric setting. The film is not flawless- there are a few minor plot holes that will, hopefully, be remedied by the deleted scenes being included on the DVD- but it’s head and shoulders above most of what contemporary Hollywood is producing at the moment, for which we should be very grateful indeed.