Couch Potato Pickings

From Hell

I know it’s morbid, but I’m fascinated by the Jack the Ripper murders. I’ve read numerous books, trundled around Whitechapel on numerous walking tours, visited the London Docklands Museum Ripper exhibition and also seen most of the dramatisations of this now legendary serial killer’s work.

It feels a bit wrong to call it work – that sounds like something that should be admired, but then hobby doesn’t seem the right term either.

Whether or not he (or she…?) enjoyed his killing spree or was reacting to a deep-rooted psychosis we can probably never know, but there’s no doubt about it, Jack the Ripper was thorough, clever, manipulative and, dare I say it, artistic.

So, is this why his crimes have become so notorious? Or, is there a fascination there because Jack’s identity has never been established?

I don’t think it can be the latter alone, because there have been plenty of unsolved crimes in the past 110 years since the Whitechapel murders that haven’t captured public imagination in quite the same way.

I personally feel that it’s the mind-blowing horror of Jack’s murders combined with the mystery of his identity that keep us interested and constantly yearning for information and insight.  This was verified for me following the recent Whitechapel drama on ITV. That had me hooked for three weeks with its contemporary Ripper copycat storyline, but as soon as the killer’s identity was revealed in the final episode I was disappointed and left feeling cheated.

Anyway, the reason I’m banging on about this is to try and explain how powerful a figure Jack the Ripper is, albeit an unknown and unseen one. Any dramatisation of the Ripper story cannot help but have Jack as the invisible protagonist, which is why I feel it was wrong for the makers of tonight’s film to try and upstage him by placing handsome, chiselled-cheekboned Johnny Depp at its centre as opium-addicted Victorian police inspector Frederick Abberline.

Johnny Depp

I like Johnny Depp – he’s one of my favourite actors, but I feel that his A-list status and characteristically eccentric performance conflict strongly with the intense presence of ‘Jack’ in this Ripper story. When horrific crimes are unfolding on the streets of Whitechapel, who cares about a cop’s drug habit? For me, it doesn’t matter how accomplished Depp’s performance is – the film’s got a Ripper storyline, so obviously Jack is going to be the star.

Johnny Depp, Heather Graha,

On Five tonight at 10pm