Murder By Decree review (DVD)

If you'd like to take a break from the frantic modern update of Sherlock Holmes and return to the traditional take on the character why not pick this DVD up? It's a unique take on the overused detective in a traditional setting, pitting his wit and cunning up against one of the greatest murder mysteries in history, the Jack The Ripper murders.

Set in 1888 the despicable Whitechapel murders have begun. East London prostitutes are being killed in a grotesque manner by a figure known only as Jack the Ripper. Sherlock Holmes (Plummer) is concerned that he has not been asked to assist by the London police force, regardless he takes it upon himself to pursue the case along with his loyal assistant Dr Watson (Mason) Sherlock must stop this madman but soon learns there is much more than meets the eye with this case.

The backdrop for the film is your typical dank, foggy, filthy London which is nearly always shrouded in darkness. It's a fantastic bleak setting for the film akin to Alan Moore's From Hell graphic novel. Director Bob Clark manages to keep the film chugging along at a good pace with a mixture of chilling moments and subtle humour. The Holmes vs Ripper contest is an intriguing one and for a character that has appeared on screen more than any other, it's a wonder it took this long for the great detective to take on this villain.

Christopher Plummer portrays a solid, yet toned down Holmes. He looks the part but does come across as too friendly at times, discarding the rude trait the character is often remembered for. Don't expect to see any miraculous deductions from the glance of a persons shoe in this incarnation but there is still some decent detective work and clever moments. Watson is not the classic bumbling oaf this time around but is a level headed loyal sidekick, who is frequently teased for his womanising attributes. This Watson was clearly based on Conan Doyles original vision rather than the early movie versions. The chemistry between the two is well crafted with swift dialogue and a friendly nature that keeps you engaged throughout. Then the ripper himself is a plain looking man but through certain camera angles and expert lighting, his eyes and face are used expertly to showcase true evil, managing to create an intimidating villain for our heroes to pursue.

All in all it's a strong adaptation that has two decent portrayals from it's leading duo. I can still think of several actors I prefer to watch over Plummer in the role of Sherlock but he's an enticing lead in the end and with so much conspiracy and intrigue for Holmes to dig his teeth into, you're provided with plenty of excitement and mystery to keep you happy. An exciting adventure for any traditional Holmes fans or lovers of Ripperology.

EXTRAS None, which is a shame – this is a film that really lends itself to an audio commentary.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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