The International Writers Magazine:
Hell - A Jack the Ripper Film (2001)
Directed by Albert Hughes/ Allen Hughes
starring Johnny Depp, Heather Graham
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 directors 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).
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 rippers 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 Depps 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
One of the most intriguing characters in the film however is that
of Prince Albert Victor, Queen Victorias 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
Alberts 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 grandsons 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 Annies closest friends, also prostitutes.
It was said these women then tried to use this to their advantage and
blackmail Lord Salisbury, the Queens 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 mothers 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 directors 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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