NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: “A perfect whodunit.”
HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “Jack the Ripper lashes the viewer with the insistent thrust of a Dickensian epic.”
SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER: “This carefully wrought, brightly scripted movie manages the near impossible.”
~~Glenn Erickson on DVD Savant
… The story of Jack the Ripper continues to fascinate audiences. The famous 1888 London serial murder case was documented in detail, killing by bloody killing. Forensic evidence, including photographs of the murder sites and the victims, are a matter of public record. As the killer's identity was never discovered the case is still controversial, with scores of hypothetical solutions. Social reformers used the killings to bring attention to the horrible living conditions in crowded lower-class areas of the city. Author Jack London wrote scathing essays based on his observances of poverty and squalor in Whitechapel, the district where the Ripper killings took place …
The most satisfactory historical effort so far is this lavish two-part TV miniseries from Euston Films, Thames Television and Lorimar. It was produced for the centennial of the killings … and made news for its rare TV appearance by Michael Caine. Caine praised writer-producer-director David Wickes, for whom this was actually a second go at the story. Wickes had directed a previous English TV show on the same subject in 1973, that was applauded for sticking to the facts of the case.
The Jack the Ripper miniseries has its factual flaws and anachronisms but by and large is an exciting and complex large-scale recounting of the murders. The three-hour running time gives plenty of elbow room to sketch out political elements of the story usually omitted, such as the activities of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee …
Chief Scotland Yard Inspector Fred Abberline (Michael Caine) must climb back on the wagon when he's assigned the Whitechapel murder case, a horrific mutilation murder. Under the watchful eye of his superiors, Abberline and his partner Sgt. George Godley (Lewis Collins) engage the help of Robert Lees, a psychic (Ken Bones), prostitutes Kate Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly (Susan George & Lysette Anthony) and sketch artist Emma Prentiss (Jane Seymour), a previous sweetheart of Abberline's. As the murders mount so does the pressure to put an end to the case -- public uproar is turning ugly. Fred and George investigate the famous American actor Richard Mansfield (Armand Assante), who nightly transforms from Jekyll to Hyde before terrified audiences. But the only consistent clues that Abberline can put together point in a very sensitive direction --- to someone involved with the Royal Family ...
The dapper Fred Abberline must answer to closed-mouthed bureaucrats concerned that he'll get drunk and fumble the case. Out in the streets he's confronted by coarse working men, arrogant criminals and Marxist agitators. A nervy reporter (Jonathan Moore) openly fans the flames of scandal. Abberline is inundated with opportunists, gadflies and obstructionists. Adding to his troubles, the local police are anxious to discredit him as well.
Numerous actors serve as transparent red herrings, while Inspector Abberline pursues the case as best he can. Local police cynically "round up the usual suspects" to give the impression that they're doing something constructive. Fred's superiors remove bodies and clean up a murder site in an attempt to keep a lid on a case that can cost them their jobs. When a shoemaker's apron is found at a murder site, the police are forced to lock up leather workers to protect them from lynching by the Vigilante Committees ...
The presence of Michael Caine helped producer Wickes attract a superior cast. Armand Assante is properly suave as the high-toned actor. He's greatly aided by some anachronistic but startling makeup effects. Jane Seymour is on hand to offer a romantic possibility for Abberline, and Susan George and Lysette Anthony are women of the night terrified at the thought of becoming the Ripper's next prey. Cult actor Michael Gothard (Herostratus, The Devils, For Your Eyes Only) plays George Lusk, the rabble-rousing leader of the Whitechapel Vigilantes. I think Gothard has more dialogue here than in the rest of his filmography put together.1 Full review1
A blatant exaggeration, but it makes a valid point about the under-use of Michael’s talent.
~~At-A-Glance Film Reviews
In 1888, when the real life Jack the Ripper was caught, the court records were ordered to be vaulted for one hundred years and the details of the case kept confidential. This film claims to be based on these top secret Home Office files; the filmmakers believe their ending the correct solution to the mystery.
Accurate or not, this is an outstanding film, especially so given that it was made for television. The character portrayals are solid, as is the screenplay, but the acting -- top notch work from nearly everyone -- takes the spotlight. Michael Caine, who plays the lead detective on the case, won a well-deserved Golden Globe for his performance. At-A-Glance Film Reviews
… Wickes wrote, directed and produced 'Jack The Ripper' for the Euston Films/Thames Television partnership, responsible for 'The Sweeney' over a decade earlier. It was made for television and was screened in two parts, the first on Tuesday 11th October 1988 and the second concluding instalment following a week later on October 18th. Each instalment began at 9pm but took a break at 10pm allowing transmission of ITN's 'News At Ten', often the custom for the ITV network …
The mini-series boasted extremely high production values for a British television programme and had an all-star cast. Playing the lead role of Inspector Frederick Abberline was Michael Caine, in his first acting role for British television for twenty years. Caine had spent most of the 1980s resident in America, so his casting represented a considerable coup for the production team. Playing his sidekick Sgt George Godley was former 'Professionals' star Lewis Collins.
Both Inspector Abberline and Sergeant Godley were real-life people, as indeed were most of the characters in this drama. And Abberline was without doubt at the centre of the Ripper investigation - but the drama takes liberties with his character. In fact, from the moment when we are introduced to Abberline as an alcoholic with crumbling respect from his fellow policemen the alarm bells start ringing and rightly so - for despite the wealth of research that went into this production it is at best a badly warped version of history and at worst 99% fiction …
Abberline then becomes suspicious of police surgeon Dr Rees Llewelyn (Michael Hughes) on account of him initially missing the victim's abdominal mutilations. Next he gets a visit from Queen Victoria's personal clairvoyant, Robert Lees (Ken Bones), who claims to have had visions of the killer, which leads to the detective paying attention to American actor Richard Mansfield (Armand Assante), then performing on the London stage in "Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde". Such is his convincing performance of playing a man who can be sane one moment and insane the next, Mansfield immediately becomes a top suspect! And just to confirm his theory, Abberline seeks advice from the Queen's surgeon Sir William Gull (Ray McAnally) who agrees that it is theoretically possible for a man to switch between sanity and insanity.
The next victim, Annie Chapman, is found in Hanbury Street and Abberline continues to quiz Dr Llewelyn who takes exception to being suspected. So Abberline suspects him even more. Then Lees is run over by a coach and informs Abberline about it. Not just any coach, but a black coach with a crest on its side. The Royal coach. Checking to see if the coach has been out lately, Godley by chance gets talking to coach driver John Nettley (George Sweeney) who tells him how clever he is and how he has been teaching himself medical and anatomical knowledge. Another suspect.
Meanwhile the public have been outraged by the murders and a vigilante committee has been set up by George Lusk (Michael Gothard), whilst in reality Lusk and his committee mainly acted as street patrollers and helped to set up reward money for the capture of the killer, in this production they are an unruly mob bent on revolution and overthrowing the police and the monarchy!
The Central News Agency receives a letter from a 'Jack The Ripper', claiming to be the killer. Abberline believes that it is genuine because it refers to cutting off the victim's ears, something that happened with the last murder but, on Abberline's instructions, was withheld from the press. Another piece of fiction because the extant photo of Chapman's body shows her ears intact! September 30th brings two more murders - Liz Stride and Kate Eddowes (Susan George). This time we see the killers in action. Yes, KILLERS because it is the work of two men - the driver of the royal coach and its mysterious passenger. Dr Llewelyn, Mr Lees and Mr Mansfield all start behaving more suspiciously and just to make matters worse George Lusk's mob make the Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Charles Warren, decide to resign. And then Superintendent Arnold, Head of H Division, begins acting suspiciously too ...
… "Jack The Ripper" is nothing more than a dramatisation based on real-life events and should not be regarded as fact. Its plot failings are compensated for through good production values and its strong cast and is an enjoyable, if not classic, piece of British television that is perhaps more likely to satisfy those who know little about the Ripper crimes than those who are better informed, though until something better comes along Ripperologists will keep coming back to this one.
The original transmission of the opening episode broke into the top ten ratings for that week, being watched by 14.1 million viewers, an excellent achievement given its timeslot. Full review
~~Hal Erikson on Rotten Tomatoes
The TV movie Jack the Ripper endeavors to shed new light on one of the most notorious unsolved cases in history. The Ripper, of course, was the London serial killer who, in 1888, killed and disemboweled five prostitutes.
Michael Caine stars not as the Ripper but as a Scotland-Yard inspector who is assigned to the case. The trail of evidence leads Caine to some astonishing suspects--including at least one member of the Royal Family.
As the public clamors for an arrest in the case of the unsolved evisceration murders of five East End prostitutes, Abberline narrows down his list of suspects: the four most likely to have committed the murders, according to the inspector, are American-actor Richard Mansfield (Armand Assante), Queen Victoria's personal psychic (Ken Bones), a certain Dr. Acland (Richard Morant) and socialist-gadfly Lusk (Michael Gothard).
The British government is also pressuring Abberline to produce the killer. Unfortunately, if Abberline were to publicly release all the clues at his disposal, the revelation would probably rock the Empire to its foundations. Rotten Tomatoes
… The production value reflects the fresh injection of cash with most of the money seemingly going into the sets and the period costumes - the global feel is not really that of a TV drama but rather a film though the plotting and script betrays its TV origin with unnecessary cliff-hangers cropping up regularly for US ad-breaks. The film was originally split into two parts to be shown on different nights and the DVD echoes that by not merging both parts together ...
The direction is generally quite good with most of the cast performing well... The general speed of the film does seem a little slow at times and would have been substantially edited were it a cinema release but the overall quality of the production makes it a good piece of well researched TV drama that stands up to repeated viewings and the test of time.Full review