The year is 1888, the place is Victorian London and this evening a grisly discovery has the nation's capital hotly discussing the possibility there could be another murderer in their midst as the body of Mary Anne Nichols has been found with her throat cut and entrails removed. The media are immediately interested as this seems like no ordinary murder, but the police are keen to downplay its more unusual qualities when the killer is still at large. The authorities decide to put Inspector Frederick Abberline (Michael Caine) on the case, although he is an alcoholic, but not when he is investigating and can distract himself from the bottle with a mystery to be solved, so he teams up with fellow copper Sergeant George Godley (Lewis Collins) and sets about a solution...
Britain's Thames Television had high hopes for their Jack the Ripper drama, they had pushed the boat out for a co-production with an American studio and it seemed to be paying dividends when they managed to attract a big name like Caine's to headline - once he was cast, other celebrity actors followed, making this a star-studded effort by their standards, internationally at least. Of course, Thames did not know that their days were numbered and they would lose their ITV franchise sooner rather than later thanks to Government ideas of what was fair competition in the television market, and in truth by aping that most American of concepts, the miniseries consisting of two or three feature-length episodes shown over successive nights, they were perhaps getting away from their origins.
Still, their Jack impressed many at the time, and as one of the first fictionalisations of the Ripper murders that purported to answer the question of who the culprit was it was significant in that way. But what it did not feel was particularly British, no matter the variety of homegrown talent peppering the cast list. Armand Assante was the U.S. import, playing an actor whose barnstorming reading of Jekyll and Hyde on the stage landed him as a potential suspect, though the use of An American Werewolf in London transformation effects tended to make him look as if he had supernatural powers. The use of the otherworldly extended to a psychic character Lees (Ken Bones) who had his suspicions about a certain member of the Royal Family, and there were other suspects too, even the leader (Michael Gothard) of the vigilantes determined to track Jack down.
There was a card at the very end of this claiming director David Wickes (who was credited with the whole concept) had conducted extensive research and that the production believed its conclusions to be accurate, though they blamed a popular suspect (also the man Alan Moore charged with the murders in his comic book series, and in the subsequent From Hell, the Johnny Depp-starring adaptation) who has since been discredited as a far-fetched idea, taking in as it did a conspiracy to cover up the identity through the strata of British life, right up to the Royals. It's an intriguing notion, but leaned on the sort of theorising that became popular in parapolitics where every major crime seemed to be linked to the sinister machinations of the powers that be. Don't take this account as gospel truth, is what is to be advised.
This left a somewhat longwinded extrapolation from the facts played out by a bunch of British thesps who frankly had a tendency to overact. Caine was especially bad for this, doing his talking reasonably then abruptly building to a crescendo of top of the voice fury, which by the denouement where he finally got his solution was unintentionally funny, notably because the man he is questioning yells back. Before that there was an abundance of scenes set in a supposedly grimy London of the period, but no matter the horse shit on the cobbles looked curiously glossy; it could have been an effect of the shooting on film, but you were never convinced you were watching something from exactly one hundred years before (this had been commissioned to commemorate the crimes' centenary). Wickes preferred not to revel in the gory details, which was fair enough, he obviously did not wish to be exploitative, but with the overripe performances there was more than a hint of the panto about this Jack the Ripper, which was equally as inappropriate. If you felt stimulated by the theories, this was as good a version as you would want, but how could you trust it when the cast couldn't even pronounce Abberline correctly? Music by John Cameron.
[Network's Blu-ray has two discs, one with the miniseries on, and the other with the feature film edit on it, as well as a Barry Foster-starring adaptation in rough cut extract and an image gallery. It looks very sleek and slick.]