From Hell

Year: 2001
Director: Albert Hughes/Allen Hughes
Cast: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Robbie Coltrane, Ian Holm, Jason Flemyng
It's the mark of a truly diverse filmmaker when you can watch two films that are totally different in pacing, style, structure and premise and then realise they're by the same person.

Guy Ritchie has only done east end crooks well. His one departure (Swept Away) from that look, feel, pace and style was a disaster. Likewise Alex Proyas, who does the dark, neo-gothic world of The Crow and Dark City well but totally missed the mark in Garage Days).

But after Dead Presidents, a gruelling, gripping tale of the struggles of urban black Vietnam war veterans, the Hughes Brothers turn their eye to impoverished slums of Dickensian London in the late 19th century, when it was gripped in fear of Jack the Ripper.

Famously asked during promotion for the film what two black LA gangbanger-type young Americans know about the era and environment of England's most notorious killer, they famously answered the Steven Spielberg had never been to space, but nobody questioned his qualifications to make movies about aliens.

And for their confidence, From Hell is not only one of the best set films of recent times, but the story offers one of the best recent premises to go with it.

A drug-addicted detective (Depp, with a slightly overdone accent but showing his usual talent) is bought in to investigate the brutal and almost surgical slayings of several working girls. His talents include not just police work but visions of cases during the trances bought on by his opium.

Befriending one - Mary (Graham) - he follows the leads into the upper echelons of society - freemasonry.

From there the film makes fiction out of fact. The slain girls, all friends from the streets, have all been present during the nuptials of their friend to a man who turns out to be the returned prince. Their resulting child - born legitimately, is therefore heir to the throne.

Unable to see their grip on power slip away, the society of freemasons, including the police chief and a respected local doctor, silence the parents, unaware the baby exists and has been sent away. One of them, the surgeon (Ian Holm) starts tracking down and ritually killing and butchering the girls for what they've witnessed - the birth of a legitimate heir.

Despite seeming to be the detective's only help in the whole matter, he himself turns out to be the Ripper, and it's a fantastic story built around a mystery that will never be solved.

When Mary leaves with the baby to her homeland in Ireland to wait for him, a pat Hollywood ending is sadly but cleverly avoided. He's promised to meet her there for them to live happily ever after, but knowing he'll be watched by those in power the rest of his life, he knows he can't lead them to her and the baby.

Assembling some of England's best actors, the Hughes Brothers have made a cinematic treat - a fantastically imagined story executed with exceptional technical skill. The shots of late 19th century London seemingly soaked in blood by foreboding sunsets choked with industrial smoke are excellent.

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