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Detective Abberline, I Presume?

The second trailer for The Wolfman hit the interweb yesterday. I’m still on the fence about this one. On one hand, there’s a classic monster movie, Anthony Hopkins and Benecio del Toro. On the other hand there’s Joe Johnson (the dude who directed Jurassic Park III) and what looks like fairly dodgy CGI. The twice pushed-back release date isn’t filling me with confidence for this kick-start to the monster movie genre either. Still, one aspect of the film intrigues me, amid all the forest scenery, interesting make-up and scenery-chewing going on. It’s the ever-fantastic Hugo Weaving appearing as Detective Francis Abberline. Don’t worry if the name doesn’t ring any bells, I’m fairly sure you’ve seen him somewhere – he’s been played by Sir Michael Caine and Johnny Depp amongst others. The problem is he’s constantly upstaged by his most frequent co-star:

Jack the Ripper.

On the scent...

On the scent...

 

Frederick Abberline – Francis to his friends – is the copper most frequently associated with the attempt to track down history’s most notorious unidentified murderer. He’s also just about the only person in the whole saga who comes off particularly well, showing consideration in not contaminating the scene of Mary Kelly’s death to allow the bloodhounds get a better scent. His involvement in the Ripper murders tends to overshadow other elements of a long and distinguished career, being dealing with Irish dissidents or being involved in the breaking up of the male brothel which became the centre of the Cleveland Street scandal.

Abberline is a well-respected figure to Ripperologist – in her book on the subject, Patricia Cornwell speaks of his quiet dignity in putting together his memoirs. He apparently spoke relatively little of the case in his later years (though he did have a favourite suspect in George Chapman). This quiet and calm man (who reportedly more resembled a banker than a police officer) has received a variety of bizarre depictions in popular culture from the clairvoyant opium addict of From Hell to the alcoholic of Michael Caine’s version.

Now it looks like he has moved from serial killers to monster hunting, becoming a silver-bullet-toting badass who has evidently decided to involve himself in whatever strange goings-on are happening around the rather lavish (but still fake-looking) country estate that the upcoming creature feature seems to be set around. Being honest, I don’t know if he really is meant to be the same detective who was tasked with catching the serial killer, but the naming of the character is at least a homage. On one hand I think it’s a nice reference to a character who tends to get obscured in any number of accounts of what transpired in 1888, but I am more than a little skeptical.

Abberline has already had his character distorted quite a bit within popular culture, and I’m not sure Frederick Abberline, Monster Killer is a step in the right direction – certainly not with the modern style of monster movie making. Perhaps in a more traditional Victorian telling, the hunter would be an unambiguously good guy, but I think cinema has really moved past that (for the most part). Our romanticising of Dracula means that – in some small way – Van Helsing must be a murderer, preventing two souls destined to be together from uniting. The villagers who pursued the Frankenstein monster with their pitch forks were not to be seen as heroes but a pathetic frightened mob (though you could argue that Frankenstein himself is the villain of that piece).

Because the Wolfman is infected invulontarily, because he transforms into and out of werewolf form, and – arguably most importantly – because he’s played by Benecio del Toro, he can’t really be entirely devoid of sympathy or compassion, as he isn’t really culpable for his actions. He can’t be blamed. Yes, maybe he should be hunted, but that makes the hunter at the very least an ambiguous character.

Maybe I’ve read the trailer wrong (and I may well have) and maybe Abberline isn’t out to kill or capture the beast, but to cure the man – but it doesn’t look like that’s the case. It’s a somewhat interesting idea that the audience may find themselves rooting against the guy who almost caught Jack the Ripper. It’s certainly an interesting intellectual exercise to consider the implications of fictionalising a real historical figure – and one who many don’t realise is a real historical figure (as opposed to, say, the skewering of Richard Nixon).

Of course, I’m probably being way over analytical about this. I doubt that half of the people watching the film will recognise the name.

3 Responses

  1. […] a look at the man who will hunt The Wolfman, Inspector Francis Abberline […]

  2. It was mentioned in the movie that this was the same Abberline of the Ripper cases.

    • Cool, I haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet – is it worth seeing? Some people hate it, but some say it’s okay if you go in with average expectations…

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