From Hell is an American thriller directed by Albert and Allen Hughes, and released in 2001. It is the adaptation of the graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, published in 10 volumes from 1991 to 1996, which received the Critics’ Prize at Angoulême in 2001. The plot of the film traces the murders of Jack the Ripper, a sinister conspiracy to cover up a scandal involving the British monarchy. The origin of this theory dates back to 1976 with the book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution by journalist Stephen Knight. The movie stars Johnny Depp as inspector Frederich George Abberline; he is accompanied by Heather Graham, Sir Ian Holm, and Robbie Coltraine.
The ending of From Hell might be a bit confusing for people, which is why we decided to explain what actually happened in the end of the movie. We are going to analyze the narrative elements of the story, as well as the meaning of the final scene, and how it all connects to the actual and fictional truths behind the story of Jack the Ripper.
What happens in From Hell?
London, 1888. In the bleak and infamous neighborhood of Whitechapel, a group of befriended prostitutes fight for survival against the bullying of a greedy and violent protector named McQueen. Ann Crook, one of the group, managed to free herself from the crowd by marrying a wealthy painter named Albert who is always traveling to Europe to sell his paintings.
Their union was blessed with the birth of a baby girl, Alice. In anticipation of Albert’s arrival from France in the afternoon, Ann goes to her friends asking them if they can keep little Alice for her. Two of the group accept with pleasure and, when they go to bring the newborn girl back to the couple, they witness a gruesome scene: Albert and Ann, while having sexual intercourse, are surprised by a handful of mysterious men with an aristocratic air.
The two are grabbed and violently loaded onto two separate carriages that leave quickly through the streets of the city, then Ann is subjected to an interrogation with an unknown and threatened subject. It is evening and while one of the prostitutes takes the child back to Ann’s parents, the other is lured into a dark alley and brutally stabbed to death.
The investigations are handled by the young inspector Frederick Abberline, a shrewd and elegant man with extraordinary premonitory abilities, who took refuge in drugs and alcohol after the death of his wife in giving birth to an already deceased child. He is joined by Sergeant Godley, always busy trying to save his friend from his self-destructive tendencies.
The two officers go to the morgue to consult the coroner and from the autopsy, they learn that the victim has been slaughtered and horrific genital mutilation inflicted on her. The next day, at the Royal London Hospital, Professor William Gull leads a group of scholars to a seminar held by Dr. Ferral, dealing with a new technique for treating dementia. During the seminar, a lobotomy is performed on a young patient suffering from hysteria.
The prostitutes, still shocked by the events surrounding their friend, think the murder is the work of McQueen’s gang as they are continually threatened if they don’t pay for his “protection”. The first victim is immediately joined by a second, Mary Ann Nichols, also called “Polly”. The young prostitute is murdered by a mysterious man who pretends to be a client: the murder takes place inside her carriage while she is distracted admiring Cleopatra’s Needle.
Polly’s body is later found at night by a policeman on duty. The next morning, a crowd forms around the body, and the inhabitants of the neighborhood begin to worry. Abberline, having arrived on the spot, analyzing the corpse finds a stalk of grapes and notices that, although it rained the previous night, the body is completely dry: the inspector thus comes to the conclusion that the woman was not murdered in the place where was found; moreover, as with the first victim, Polly was also slaughtered, gutted and deprived of her genitals.
Inspector Abberline reports to police chief Charles Warren that the killer is allegedly a wealthy man considering he can afford to offer grapes to his victims. Warren claims the killer is not English and orders the inspector to investigate the Jews in the neighborhood and interrogate every butcher, furrier, and tailor.
Abberline and Godley go to Polly’s funeral to question her friends, and it is here that the acquaintance between the inspector and Mary Jane Kelly, a charming red-haired prostitute, takes place. After Polly, the body of another of the prostitutes in the group is found, Annie Chapman known as “the brunette”, who was also murdered under the deception of having sexual intercourse.
Near the mutilated body, the murderer placed coins that form a pentacle: in addition, Abberline claims to have seen the victim in a dream the night she was brutally killed. Abberline, submitting the report to the chief of police, asks for permission to consult an expert surgeon considering the killer’s modus operandi, permission which is immediately denied.
The inspector, however, has no desire to follow orders and thus makes the acquaintance of Dr. William Gull, honorary doctor of the royal family; thus managing to obtain advice on the Ripper case. Subsequently, Abberline has Godley forcibly remove Mary Jane, as she was reluctant to cooperate with the investigation.
Mary Jane learns from the inspector that they are all under surveillance given the inability of the police to arrest the Nicol street gang without evidence. Over time, the inspector manages to gain Mary Jane’s trust, and, from her description of the men she saw abducted Ann and Albert, Abberline recognizes the chief of the special section of the police, Ben Kidney.
That same night, Inspector Abberline sneaks into the headquarters of the special section with the complicity of Sergeant Godley and discovers documents in the archive concerning Ann Crook and little Alice. From these papers, the inspector learns that the unfortunate Ann has been hospitalized in an institution for mental illness while the child has been placed in an orphanage.
At this point, Abberline and Mary Jane decide to visit Ann to be told what happened to her. But when the two find themselves in front of the girl, all their hopes vanish: Ann is in fact in a semi-catatonic state due to the lobotomy practiced by Dr. Ferral. Questioned by the heartfelt Mary Kelly, Ann does nothing but stammer incoherent sentences in which she claims to be a queen and that Albert is her prince.
Caught by suspicion, Abberline takes Mary Kelly to a gallery to show her the paintings of the royal family. The girl recognizes, to her enormous surprise, the true identity of Ann’s husband: Prince Edward Albert Victor, grandson of Queen Victoria and legitimate heir to the throne of England after her father, Edward VII.
Beginning to understand the extent of the plot behind the figure of Jack the Ripper, the inspector seeks advice from Dr. William. Abberline confides to the doctor all his suspicions and inferences about him: the fact that Edward, an Anglican, had entered into a regular marriage with the prostitute Ann in a Catholic church; the fact that Mary Kelly and all her friends were present at that wedding, including the women killed; and the fact that the little girl, Alice, is in effect the legitimate heir to the throne of England.
Gull does not deny his suspicions but reveals that Prince Edward has contracted syphilis and that, due to a violent tremor in his hands, it would have been impossible for him to carry out such heinous murders. Finding it impossible to protect the girls from a killer she still can’t identify, Abberline orders Mary Kelly to go into hiding for a few days with her only surviving friends.
The prostitutes then shut themselves up in a small room together with Ada (another prostitute, a brown-haired Belgian woman) lured by Liz, to keep her company. However, an argument between the two prompts Liz to flee the room. With the woman in rage and on the street, it’s all too easy for Jack the Ripper to lure her into a corner and kill her. The same end awaits Catherine Eddowes, who has come out of the shelter to look for her friend Liz.
That same evening, as Abberline was getting close to solving the case, he is threatened by Ben Kidney’s special agents. He regains consciousness and goes to the crime scene where Catherine’s body lies. This time Jack leaves the sentence written on a wall: Jews are not people to be accused for nothing.
How does From Hell end?
The police chief arrives and has Abberline suspended and removed from the Ripper case. The reckless inspector continues the investigation on his own; he is aware of being able to discover the identity of the murderer. Abberline, after having had a vision caused by smoking opium, consults a book concerning the history of Freemasonry, linking the murders to ritual acts of the same.
The inspector goes to William’s home and finally discovers the terrifying truth: Jack the Ripper is none other than the same doctor, who is extremely loyal to the Crown and is a devoted Freemason, which ultimately leads him into psychopathy and to madness. Jack manages to escape it thanks to Kidney’s help and, having discovered the hiding place where Mary Kelly is, he goes there.
The inspector is taken to a carriage and gagged by Jack’s accomplices, who are now determined to assassinate him for his sensational discovery. After a fight with Dr. Ferral and Kidney, the inspector manages to escape. Jack, on the other hand, has no choice but to commit the last, the most atrocious and frightening of his crimes, but misunderstanding the identity of the girl who (at least in the cinematic fiction) turns out to be Ada.
Mary Kelly, on the other hand, manages to save herself, taking little Alice away with her. William, in the dramatic final confrontation, suggests to the inspector an acquiescence of Queen Victoria herself towards the murders but the policeman is prevented from revealing the truth: shortly after, the henchmen of the English secret services would have in fact taken over William to lock him up in a criminal asylum, not before having practiced a lobotomy at the hands of his pupil and accomplice Dr. Ferral.
In the finale, Abberline dies from an opium overdose in the den, after imagining the life of Mary and little Alice waiting for his arrival that would never happen: in fact, Abberline would have stayed in London to protect them. If he left, he would be followed by Jack’s hidden accomplices who would carry out his work. Sergeant Godley finds the lifeless body of his friend. Displeased and almost bursting into tears, he places two coins on his eyes that the inspector himself was holding in his hand for the journey to the afterlife, a tradition in which he strongly believed.
Is From Hell a true story?
As you probably know by now, From Hell is based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name, which, in turn, is based on the real-life story of the Whitechapel murders attributed to the infamous Jack the Ripper. Most people from the movie are actual persons – including inspector Abberline, the five prostitutes, and Dr. Gull – with some additions. Now, adding fictional persons to real-life stories isn’t something fully odd in the world of cinema, but we have to state that From Hell is only partially true.
Namely, the story of the movie is a fictionalized version of the so-called Crown Conspiracy theory surrounding the identity of Jack the Ripper. This theory has been debunked by researchers but, as far as From Hell is concerned, the movie depicts a fictionalized version of the theory, not even the real one. Now, this functions well within the world of Moore’s narrative, but you have to be aware that a lot of it is fiction.
Ripper’s victims are based on historical facts, some of the characters as well, and the locations are authentic. The other stuff? Mostly fiction. Inspector Abberline did not have visions of the future nor was he, as far as we know, a drug addict; Depp’s version of the character is highly romanticized and fictionalized. Abberline actually went on to have a prolific police career, retiring in 1892 with 84 commendations and awards. He died in 1929.
As far as Dr. Gull is concerned, he was the royal physician and was a highly influential name in the medical circles of the time, but there is absolutely no evidence that he was Jack the Ripper. He also did not end up in an asylum, but rather died from a series of strokes in 1890.
Unfortunately, Mary Kelly did not survive s the movie depicted it. Asa is a fictional character that did not actually exist and Jack the Ripper did, actually, kill Mary Kelly as his final victim. The movie spared Mary Kelly’s life, while, in real life, she actually died in 1888 as the last of the canonical five Ripper victims.