DVD Review: Murder by Decree
I recall reading about this film a few years ago, but it wasn't out on DVD at the time, and I subsequently forgot about it. But the recent Downey/Law Sherlock Holmes
called it to mind again, and it turned out to have been released in the interim period, so I ordered it. An Anglo-Canadian coproduction (explaining the sizeable Canadian contingent in the cast), this is the cinematic iteration of one of the most frequent Holmes post-Doyle stories: Sherlock vs. Jack the Ripper.
The leads are Christopher Plummer and James Mason, with notable appearances by Sir John Gielgud (as Lord Salisbury, though not named as such), Donald Sutherland, and Genevieve Bujold. Plummer's very good as Holmes, who's a bit more emotive here than typical (he loses his cool a few time whenever injustice is particularly palpable). Mason's an excellent Watson, with a dry sense of humour and, despite his age, is shown to be very competent.
As far as Ripper-ology goes, this is a filmed version of the Prince Albert Victor/Masonic conspiracy theory (Sutherland is Robert Lees, the psychic, in a cameo; Bujold is Annie Crook), the one more famously seen in Alan Moore's From Hell
and its cheap film adaptation. This version instantly wins points from me by casting the murdered women as dowdy/unattractive women over 40 (well, apart from Bujold, but she's a long way from a supermodel too), like they were in real life, rather than in From Hell the film, where they're all sexy twentysomethings.
And their take on the conspiracy itself even makes a modicum of sense, since it actually brings up how absurd the idea that any sane person in Westminster or Buckingham Palace would regard a handful of prostitutes as a major threat to the monarchy. In this version, the higher-ups merely think it's "inconvenient", and two fairly deluded Masons take this as a sanction to get rid of the supposed problem, which the others then have to cover up to save the Order's face. Actually, it's very Watergate, which makes sense given the time of production.