Channel 5: Monday 27 July, 10.55pm
London police inspector Johnny Depp puts down his laudanum glass long enough to look at a grisly trail of clues when the mutilated bodies of prostitutes litter the grimy streets of Whitechapel in 1888. Considering it’s adapted from Alan Moore’s nightmarish Jack the Ripper comic-book by Albert and Allen Hughes, the American brothers who made their reputation with Menace II Society, one of the 1990s best black ghetto dramas, and the ferocious urban crime thriller Dead Presidents, From Hell is a surprisingly conventional treatment of a familiar Victorian scare-story. Depp’s investigation, relying not so much on deductive reasoning as on intuitive visions experienced in opium-den reveries, uncovers nothing that hasn’t been dealt with in the old Ripper movies Murder by Decree and A Study in Terror, laying the blame at the feet of vengeful hierarchies of the state, Freemasons acting to protect the monarchy. And despite the digital wizardry in depicting 19th-century London skylines and street scenes, the film’s theatrically melodramatic structure is reminiscent of the vintage Hammer gothic horrors. Still, for all the muck and squalor, it’s an extremely handsome film, smoothly shot in Panavision as if in homage to Hammer’s favoured Techniscope framing. And, question marks against Depp’s estuary accent aside, the casting is reassuringly sardonic: the street girls’ sisterhood, fleshed out by Susan Lynch and Mike Leigh repertory members Katrin Cartlidge and Lesley Sharp, seems authentically earthy, while the establishment is convincingly represented by Ian Holm as the Queen’s physician and Ian Richardson as the supercilious Mason in charge of the Metropolitan police. Ultimately, it’s a disappointment. Certainly when compared to Tim Burton’s Hammer-inspired take on Sleepy Hollow.