DVD REVIEW: Murder by Decree

 Sherlock Holmes is back but why is he not being asked to investigate the murders in London and is the murderer part of a larger conspiracy or just the actions of a madman? Only Holmes and Dr Watson can find out.

This film had a lot to live up to due to the fact that everyone I spoke to seemed to love this film and consider it as one of the best Sherlock Holmes films ever made. So what is the film all about that has so many people get excited for this DVD release.

It is England in the Autumn of 1888 and Queen Victoria still rules over the British Empire. Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) the legendary private detective and his loyal companion and chronicler, the earnest Dr. Watson (James Mason), are enjoying an opulent first night at the opera in London’s fashionable West End.

Meanwhile, in the squalid jungle of the East End of London, a prostitute is being horribly murdered. The dreaded killer, commonly known as Jack the Ripper for the gruesome manner in which he mutilates the bodies of his victims, has struck again. The sickly miasma of fear is as palpable as the autumn fogs which envelop the slums. The forces of law and order seem powerless to stop the savage butchery.

Holmes is approached by shadowy figures to take on the case. Although Police Inspectors Foxborough (David Hemmings) and Lestrade ( Frank Finlay) more than welcome his assistance, Sir Charles Warren (Anthony Quayle), the Commissioner of Police from Scotland Yard, actively does not.

At first I was not sold at all on Christopher Plummer in the lead role of Holmes and the first scene where we are introduced to Holmes and Dr Watson played by James Mason in the Opera just seemed awkward apart from Watson who was perfect. Mason brought the good Doctor to life so easily that Plummer stood out even more. About twenty minutes later when Holmes arrives at the crime scene do we get to see why Plummer was chosen. There is an intensity to his performance that I have not seen before in the role. Plummer soon shines with every scene as he realises this is not just another case but a fight for justice.

The rest of the cast is a veritable who’s who of British cinema all giving 100% in each role.  David Hemmings as Inspector Foxborough is reserved but enigmatic and  Susan Clark brings Mary Kelly to life. Frank Finlay is great as Inspector Lestrade while Donald Sutherland brings his normal quirkiness to his role. Even Sir John Gielgud brings a perfect performance as the Prime Minister.

The Director Bob Clark uses some good shots to establish London in the year 1888. He also uses some nice angles to enhance the terror of the murders of Jack the Ripper to life. London is used brilliantly in every scene and real locations are brought to life wherever possible.

This all works well with the story written by John Hopkins, but also based on the book The Ripper File by Elwyn Jones and John Lloyd, who manages to create a unique tale that is not just another case for Holmes but one that stays with him even after the murders are solved. The fact that it was not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle seems strange but the story delivers in deep and disturbing ways.

The pace of this film starts slowly and then keeps building into a high note and even after you think the film has ended more revelations come which shows just how brilliant a story this is.

I can see why so many people love this film with it’s tale of the Jack the Ripper and cover ups and conspiracy all rolled into the height of London’s society. This is a perfect match for Holmes and indeed Plummer as the title hero. It is a shame he did not do more.

Verdict: This is a timeless classic with an excellent cast and engaging story that shows just how good Holmes can be when done right.

GS Rating: 4/5

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GS Reporter: Montoya

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One comment

  1. Gutted that I didn’t review this before you, as me and this film go back many, many years. Plummer is brilliant – perhaps his finest acting moment, and well – the film’s got James Mason in it for God’s Sake!! I actually prefer this to From Hell (same story when you break it down)… it’s an echo from a time when we made British films with a capital ‘B’, that made the world wake up with respect!

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