Movie of the Day

Jack The Ripper

Strictly speaking, this is not a movie, but actually a mini-series that aired over four nights on British TV in 1988, the centenary of the Jack the Ripper case. I did not know that when I got a hold of a copy of that, and watched it straight through, like a very long movie and therefore am counting it as my movie of the day.

Although a disclaimer at the beginning announces that “our story is based on extensive research, including¬† a review of the official files by special permission of the Home Office and interviews with leading criminologists and Scotland Yard officials,” the script is based pretty closely on the “royal conspiracy” published by Stephen Knight in 1976, which had been pretty thoroughly discredited by the time this mini-series was produced and indeed “leading criminologist” at the time protested the claim that the series would reveal the true identity of the killer.¬† There are historical inaccuracies and established facts of the case are jumbled, but this fictionalized account is successful in evoking the look of Victorian London, the power of the press over an increasingly literate public, frictions between the police and Scotland Yard, and the dichotomy of the Eastend and Westend of London. It also succeeds in creating a mystery with genuine suspense.

When the casting of Michael Caine was announced, shares of Thames Television jumped in value. It was justified, as Caine is good as Fredrick Aberline, a Scotland Yard detective who is sent back to his old beat in the Eastend of London to solve the case, a real-life figure who was played much less convincingly by Johnny Depp in From Hell. Caine’s Aberline grits his teeth and shouts a lot at the people who stand in the way of his investigation while struggling to overcome his alcoholism. Caine was a substitute for Barry Foster, who was replaced when the producers thought they needed a bigger name for the lead. Ironically, Foster had earlier replaced Caine in Hitchcock’s Frenzy, when Caine refused to play a serial killer who kills and mutilates women.

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