Jack the Ripper On Film

Numerous films have been made about the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888, and many famous film directors have tackled the subject on celluloid.

Alfred Hitchcock based his creepy 1927 movie The Lodger: A Story of A London Fog.

Indeed, Hitchcock may well have set the mood for almost all subsequent Jack the Ripper films which, in many peoples eyes, simply would look right without the murderer committing his crimes in a swirling, almost impenetrable fog.

One of the films that does capture the ripper crimes, or at least the feel of the East End streets in 1888, is Murder By Decree which starred Christopher Plummer and James Mason as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson pursuing the ripper through the foggy streets of, what purported to be the Victorian East End.

In fact, many of the locations used to depict the East End in Murder By Decree were actually located south of the River Thames on Bankside in Southwark. This is the area where the Globe Playhouse is now situated and the film is a wonderful record of the history of London in that it shows these streets as they were before they were redeveloped.

The film followed one of the most popular theories as to the motive for the Jack the Ripper Murders by concluding that the crimes were part of a Government conspiracy to hide a Royal scandal, whereby the heir presumptive to the throne of England, Prince Albert Edward Victor, the Duke of Clarence, had married a Catholic by whom he had had a child. The film was based around Stephen Knight’s book The Final Solution.

This theory was then taken up by the 1988 four part TV special in which Michael Caine played Inspector Abberline, the man tasked with heading up the on the ground investigation into the crimes in 1888.

Johnny Depp went on to reprise the role in the film From Hell, which added the twist of Abberline being prone to drug-induced hallucinations, and acquiring ta very dodgy Cockney accent which came straight out of the Dick Van Dyke school of how to play a cockney when you’re American!

Of course, it is easy to criticise the film makers for inaccuracies in their offerings. But it should be remembered that these films are fiction and are not, and have never claimed to be, documentaries or historical works.

What the films do do, however, is keep the interest in the crimes alive and, in so doing, they give many people, who otherwise would probably have no interest in the rich seam of history that can be mined in the East End of London, an interest in the case. Indeed, many of the major researchers had their interest sparked by seeing one of the Jack the Ripper films or television productions.