From Hell (2001), Runtime - 121mins, Cert 18.

Directors - The Hughes Brothers.

Writer - Alan Moore.

Starring - Johnny Depp, Robbie Coltrane, Heather Graham & Ian Holm.


Premise - Jack the Ripper is terrorising the Whitechapel area of London in the late 19th century. Murdering 'unfortunates' (whores in modern dialect) with gruesome, but precise, almost surgical wounds. Abberline (Johnny Depp) is the inspector assigned to the case who sees visions during his many dabbles with absinthe and opium. What he uncovers though, may well send shockwaves throughout the entire British Empire.

Based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore, From Hell is a dark, gothic, macabre movie that presents a wonderfully rich recreation of Victorian London. Taking its cue from the materials comic book roots, From Hell’s London is dark, but full of dashes of vibrant colour. The green of The Rippers coach torches, the red flash of his cape or the garish dresses of the whores. Many scenes could be lifted straight from a comic book.

The cinematography in general is excellent. An amazing use of shadow and light make for a very effective, creepy feeling. The glorious set design is shown off to great effect by the lighting. Filmed in Prague, the Victorian streets of London have never looked more ominous or brooding. The Hughes Brothers use the great sets well, with grand epic shots of the blood red London skyline that fly down to the bustling streets below. From Hell is a visual feast, make no mistake about that.

Although quite gory in the latter stages it’s still not as bad as expected. Sure, there is the odd flash of blood and guts, but that’s all you get, a flash. For the most part we see only the reactions of the people around the carnage and, their vomiting and passing out is more than enough for us to build a grisly mental image of the damage. As the film moves towards the conclusion there is a couple of fairly brutal shots, so those of a sensitive disposition are hereby fair warned.

The legend of Jack the Ripper has been tackled many times in both movies and books and many different theories have been put forward as to the Ripper’s identity. Moore’s book and the movie offer up a pretty intriguing mystery and subsequent investigation. Headed up by Inspector Abberline and aided by Peter Godley. They present a kind of Holmes and Watson dynamic that proves interesting. Abberline though sees ‘visions’, much like Frank Black did in the ill fated ‘Millennium’ TV show. A further interesting slant is put on the investigation when Abberline turns to Sir William Gull, a doctor, for help tracking down the killer. Their discussions reminded me heavily of Starling and Lecter in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, I even caught a sly reference to Buffalo Bill.

As the mystery deepens and the bodies pile up, Abberline is drawn into a deeper and far reaching line of investigation that involves Freemasons and even the Royal Family. From Hell’s story is indeed intriguing, but whether or not it is indicative of what really transpired in those dark London streets is a matter of some debate. Some quick research reveals that little of the films story is based in fact, but then again how many historical films stick to the history books? I won’t mark the film down for taking liberties, especially when it results in a nice juicy mystery/conspiracy like this.

Johnny Depp is one of the finest actors working today, he has shown time and time again that he can produce the goods and From Hell is no exception. Abberline is almost a less bumbling version of his character from Sleepy Hollow, albeit with crazy visions and a drug habit. Also, unlike many American’s before him his English accent is quite convincing. Robbie Coltrane is immensely enjoyable and plays well off Depp.

Heather Graham is alright as Mary Kelly and ultimately the love interest, but unlike Depp her accent is bit off and I thought the relationship between herself and Depp was unconvincing and largely unneeded. Ian Holm is always welcome in a film and he does well, especially in some excellent later scenes. I also liked Jason Flemyng who plays the Rippers coach driver, a nice little role.

The mystery is well handled by the Hughes Brothers, they never blatantly give the game away, merely dripping clues to the audience and throwing in a couple of red herrings for good measure. The reveal is fairly shocking and was unexpected, at least by me. I was confused by the inclusion of a scene with John Merrick (The Elephant Man); it seemed to serve no purpose other than to show off some cool looking make-up.

My only real issues with the film were the films length, at over two hours; it feels a little stretched, especially in the mid section. Some cutting could have been made around the Depp/Graham relationship and it would have helped the middle thirds pacing. There is a lot of plot to follow and cutting the romance would have enabled the film to concentrate more on important plot threads. However, if you like dark, grisly thrillers then you are certainly going to get a kick out of From Hell. It offers amazing (but, at times gory) visuals and a genuinely intriguing plot, that kept me guessing right up until the reveal of The Ripper.



See From Hell if you enjoyed – The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Poster Quote – What a ripper!