From Hell

2001, Movie, R, 115 mins


Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, this foray into creative Ripperology has the lush look of a late-period Hammer film and the feel of a tale that's been streamlined within an inch of its life, even with a running time of just over two hours. It treads basically the same path as 1988's underappreciated MURDER BY DECREE, which, with the exception of introducing fictional detective Sherlock Holmes into the story, sticks very close to the Prince Albert Victor/threat to the monarchy/fiendish Freemasons theory first put forth in Stephen Knight's book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution (1978). Dispensing with Holmes and Robert Lees, the Victorian psychic who plays a large part in Moore's tale, screenwriters Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias have essentially turned the real-life Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp) into Holmes — an ascetic, drug-addicted aesthete — and given him Lees's premonitory visions, making Abberline's astonishing feats of deduction literally, rather than metaphorically, uncanny. Abberline even has a Watson in portly, earthbound Sergeant Godley (Robbie Coltrane). The story begins, as most of them do, in September 1888: Abberline is hauled out of his favorite opium den to investigate the brutal murder of an East End prostitute. The inspector befriends one of the dead woman's associates, Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), and gradually learns that she and four friends (Lesley Sharp, Susan Lynch, Katrin Cartlidge, Annabelle Apsion) shared an explosive secret: They knew that Queen Victoria's grandson, Prince Albert Victor (Mark Dexter) — "Eddy" to his friends — had entered into a secret marriage with a poor girl named Ann Crook (Joanna Page) and fathered her child. The murders are part of a bloody Masonic conspiracy to destroy all traces of this threat to the crown. Every generation gets the Ripper who best fulfills its fantasies, and ours fatten on vast conspiracies. But as the movie's patrician Sir William Gull (Ian Holm) cautions Abberline, speculation, no matter how clever, is nothing more than that; authoritative-sounding assertions notwithstanding, this is no more or less authentic a Ripper tale than previous efforts. What Moore's From Hell is is an astonishing act of synthesis, bringing together disparate Ripper theories and a fiercely idiosyncratic version of London's history, architecture, policing and social structure. In abridging it, the filmmakers have stripped away the meat — Moore's endlessly fascinating digressions — and left little more than the skeleton. It could hardly have been otherwise, but it's still a shame. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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