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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 17:22 GMT
From Hell leaves you cold
Johnny Depp
Depp delivers a faithful cockney accent
By BBC News Online's Darren Waters

Over the last 50 years there have been about 24 movies made directly about the true-life Jack the Ripper slayings and countless others inspired by the gruesome murders.

So what would possess the Hughes brothers, two of America's most interesting young film-makers, to film yet another version?

Heather Graham
Graham is the winsome Mary Kelly
Sadly, after watching From Hell I'm no nearer an answer.

The Hughes brothers' entry point into the movie is the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell about the Victorian serial killer.

The film has the visual flourishes and sense of adventure that one would expect with such inspiration, with the production re-creating the Whitechapel area of east London with handsome authenticity, down to the grit, grime and darkness of the area.

Common mythology

Sadly, the film-makers opted to create a set in Prague rather than use any of the original buildings left standing.

The story is familiar to all in that manner such powerful true-life events can become transformed into social history and common mythology.

The directors are to be commended for not portraying the murdered women as simple victims

Everyone knows the Ripper murdered prostitutes in the East End at the end of the 19th century, escaping detection and ultimately leading to countless conspiracy theories springing up.

Johnny Depp plays the real-life Ripper hunter, Inspector Abberline, with Robbie Coltrane as his trusty sidekick and Heather Graham as a ludicrously glamorous prostitute, whose coterie of tarts with hearts is the favoured prey of the killer.

Abberline is a dark character and his obsession with opium and absinthe is paralleled with the Ripper's own predilection for artificial stimulation.

Strangled interpretation

Depp wisely ditches Abberline's actual west country accent for cockney tones and is impressive with his 'apples and pears' dialect.

No such compliments can be bestowed on Graham, whose strangled interpretation of an Irish accent by way of Whitechapel is a major laughing point of the film.

Robbie Coltrane
Robbie Coltrane brings dependability as the trusted sidekick
From Hell's take on the conspiracy is not new but I won't ruin the film's ending by detailing it here.

Suffice it to say, it is neither startling or revelatory and lacks the punch of audacity that author Patricia Cornwell supplied when she claimed to have unmasked the Ripper as painter Walter Sickert, late last year.

Few chills

The first half of the movie is a mixed affair, as though the directors were unsure whether they were crafting a thriller, social history, horror or whodunit?.

If the movie had been made independent of the big studio system, perhaps the film would have been darker

There is an admirable lack of gore but sadly few chills to fill the vacuum. The Ripper figure is neither intimidating or frightening, and the hunt to track him down is less chase and more country ramble.

Depp's Abberline is a mix of Sherlock Holmes and Uri Gellar and his psychic visions of the killings undermine the sense of realism the directors are striving for.

The directors are to be commended for not portraying the murdered women as simple victims and there is a rounded sense to their identity.

Aged medic

Hollywood values play a part and Graham's prostitute - the most attractive of the women, but strangely the least employed - gets involved in a predictable love affair with Abberline, culminating in a groan-worthy ending.

Ian Holm, playing an aged medic aiding the hunt, is sadly underused and the film only comes to life when he is really allowed to bite down on the meat of the plot.

If the movie had been made independent of the big studio system, perhaps then the film would have been darker and more confrontational.

Disappointingly, the film feels a victim of compromises as though the Hughes Brothers felt inhibited by the big Hollywood budget bestowed on them.

From Hell is on general release in the UK now.

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