From Hell

From Hell


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In the first instance, I resolved to see this film because I was so very much amused by the trailers; I figured that, even if it was shite, I could easily spend two hours being entertained by Johnny Depp's comedy Cockerney accent. Also, though I hadn't then read From Hell itself, I'd enjoyed some of graphic novel writer Alan Moore's other work, so I was curious as to how the adaptation had been managed. I'm really glad I went, because I was surprised by just how good a film it actually was.

I haven't seen the Hughes brothers' previous work, but I was extremely impressed by the way that they handled From Hell, and I think it signals the presence of a strong developing talent. The inter-scene splicing popular in Moore's work was translated into brilliant montages of colour and image which slipped across large quantities of information in easily digested slices. Precise, energetic camerawork enabled sudden alterations of pace and mood. Many fans had been concerned that the nature of the film medium would make it impossible for Jack the Ripper to maintain his place as a central character in the story, but this was deftly handled, as much through astute use of shadowplay as through the carefully arranged, half-seen scenes in the Ripper's abode, and fragments of conversation.

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Once one had succeeded in suspending disbelief with regard to his accent, Johnny Depp's performance in the role of Abberline was just about perfect, subtler than usual and delicately judged. I was pleased by the way in which the directors emphasised his physical vulnerability; not a quality usually accepted in a Hollywood hero, but essential to that particular character. Robbie Coltrane was also impressive (and had a carefully altered accent so good that I doubt anyone noticed it), showing what he's capable of when he's not being paid to play to type.

I knew that I was going to like this film as soon as the camera settled on Heather Graham and observed her walking across the street to look for business. It was the confident way in which she walked, and the unsweetened roughness of it, which convinced me this was not going to be another film about poor helpless prostitutes, glamourising their trade or dwelling mawkishly on the helplessness of women. The Hughes brothers have said that they think of it as a ghetto story, about the way in which people contend with poverty and social abuse, and that was very much the spirit in which it came across. With a remarkable cast of talented character actresses, each of the prostitutes who became the Ripper's victims was identified as a human being, an individual with a distinct reaction to those desperate circumstances. Though by no means the strongest performer, Heather Graham was ideal for the part of Mary Kelly, providing vital warmth and emotional intensity at the heart of the film, a pivotal humanity crucial to Abberline's fate.

This is not simply a film about Jack the Ripper, and it doesn't concern itself with examining the stronger Ripper theories. It is an impressive study of poverty and class in a particular time and place, and thus in all places. Its brutality is balanced by its passionate if tragic love story. Powerfully atmospheric, it delivered more of a punch than most in the audience seemed ready for. Recommended.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007
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Johnny Depp and Robbie Coltrane investigate Jack The Ripper murders in Victorian London.
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Angus Wolfe Murray **1/2

Director: Allen Hughes, Albert Hughes

Writer: Terry Hayes, Rafael Yglesias, based on the graphic-novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Flemyng, Susan Lynch, Lesley Sharp, Terence Harvey, Katrin Cartlidge, Estelle Skornik, Ian Richardson

Year: 2001

Runtime: 121 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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