Screen Scene: The Wife of Jack the Ripper

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As part of my Master’s degree, I did a subject called Screen Adaptation. I’m a bit of a Jack the Ripper conspiracy enthusiast and at the time I was reading a book about Florence Maybrick, who was accused of murdering her husband, James, by poisoning him and was put to death for the crime. It just so happens that James Maybrick is one of the myriad of Jack the Ripper suspects. He was also the purported author of the now discredited Jack the Ripper diaries (a fascinating read nonetheless – that’s what I call creativity).

The following is a scene written for my major assessment piece for Screen Adaptation, a creative reimagining of Florence murdering James, but only after discovering that he is Jack the Ripper by finding and reading the fictional diary. (Battlecrease House is the name of the manor they lived in.)

 

INT. BATTLECREASE HOUSE – SITTING ROOM – DAY

FLORENCE MAYBRICK is seated, staring into space. The room seems dark although it is light outside. JAMES MAYBRICK appears in one doorway. He is suffering the advanced effects of his long-term arsenic abuse as well as an overdose that morning. Florence turns to look at him. Her manner is quite dull.

FLORENCE
James, are you quite well?

JAMES
Florence, why do you ask me questions you already know the answers to?

FLORENCE
I will prepare tea.

JAMES
Let the servants do it.

FLORENCE
The servants are away from the house.

Florence exits via the door James did not come in, almost as though they are dancing around the boxing ring. James rubs at his hands and legs, trying to ease the pain he is experiencing.

INT. BATTLECREASE HOUSE – KITCHEN – DAY

Florence prepares a tray of tea things, but is reluctant to go back to James. Eventually, she gathers the tea tray and exits the room.

INT. BATTLECREASE HOUSE – SITTING ROOM – DAY

Florence enters the room, carrying the tea tray. She pours tea for James.

FLORENCE
Do you prefer sugar?

She asks this almost fearing his reaction, but wanting to prompt one. James eyes her suspiciously. It is something she should know by rote.

JAMES
Why do you ask me questions you already know the answers to?

FLORENCE
I think I barely know you anymore.

JAMES
You know I take two teaspoons of sugar in my tea as surely as I know that you take none.

Florence carefully spoons the two teaspoons into James’s cup, stirs it and hands it over.

FLORENCE
But people change.

She pours her own tea and sips it.

JAMES
That they do. But not in essentials.

FLORENCE
And tea is an essential?

JAMES
To anyone born in this country, it is.

To Florence, born in America, it is yet another dig.

JAMES
Why did you ever marry me, Florence?

Florence is surprised by the question.

FLORENCE
I was in love with you.

JAMES
In the past tense?

FLORENCE
Ask me a different question and you may hear a different tense.

JAMES
You do not love me anymore.

It is a statement rather than a question. Florence does not respond.

JAMES
Do you fear to tell me straight? (Beat, tone changes noticeably) Do you fear me, wife?

FLORENCE
I fear what you have become.

JAMES
What have I become?

FLORENCE
A monster.

After a moment of consideration, James speaks.

JAMES
Perhaps I am a monster. (Beat) Do you wish me to deny it? (Beat) Perhaps I should. A man must be allowed his secrets.

FLORENCE
But a husband must have none.

JAMES
Perhaps, then, you should consider why I have become a monster, how you made me the man I am today.

FLORENCE
I have been a faithful wife to you, James.

JAMES
Faithful?

FLORENCE
I did not break the sanctity of our marriage. I merely followed the path you had already walked. I did it only to punish you!

JAMES
And yet how many have suffered because of it.

Florence raises her head defiantly.

FLORENCE
I don’t know, James. How many?

She stares him down, refusing to lower her eyes as a proper lady might do.

JAMES
I loved you, Florence.

FLORENCE
In the past tense?

JAMES
How could I love what you have become?

FLORENCE
And yet you will still make use of what I have become. You will still take pleasure in my body.

JAMES
What you have become suits these purposes well.

FLORENCE
What have I become?

JAMES
A whore.

FLORENCE
Perhaps you are right.

Florence seems remorseful and James feels bad for calling his beloved wife names.

JAMES
Bunny…

FLORENCE
Do not address me so. Do not address me fondly when you think so little of me.

JAMES
I always think of you, Florence, regardless of my feelings.

FLORENCE
Did you think of me when you killed them?

James gets up in a rush and Florence does the same to try to avoid him. He catches her easily and pins her to a wall, his arm at her throat, constricting her windpipe. Florence is afraid.

JAMES
What do you know of it?

FLORENCE
Only what your own hand has informed me.

JAMES
Bunny, you are too nosy for your own good. I warned you before, did I not?

FLORENCE
I have a right to protect my children. I have a right to know of any danger they are in, even if that danger comes from their own father.

JAMES
I would never hurt my children.

FLORENCE
How can I believe that when you are hurting me even know?

JAMES
You are one of them.

He leans closer and lowers his voice.

JAMES
When I cut their throats, when I tore off their breasts, when I removed from them the parts of you that had betrayed me, I believe I did think only of you.

He tightens his hold on her throat and Florence finds it difficult to choke out the next words.

FLORENCE
James, please, I am the mother of your children.

JAMES
Some of them. (Beat) I am sure they will miss you.

Florence’s fear increases ten-fold. James smiles at her, almost grimly, then proceeds to throw her across the room. She clatters into a table, knocking it over. She doesn’t rest even a single moment. She scrambles to regain her footing but James is there to capture her and abuse her again.

JAMES
I am sure Brierly will miss you.

He slaps her viciously and she again falls to the floor some distance from him. He covers the distance easily and picks her up, holding her tightly, his face close to hers.

JAMES
I am sure even I will miss you.

Florence looks up into his face, fearful of the next blow, but trying not to show it. Instead, James kisses her, but there is no real love.

FLORENCE
No!

Florence struggles against him but he won’t let her go. Eventually, she knees him in the groin and they both fall to the floor. James looks at Florence with murder in his eyes.

Florence takes the hint and gets to her feet, running to the second door of the sitting room, while James, slightly staggered by the blow, eventually makes his way to the first door. Both doors lead to the hallway.

INT. BATTLECREASE HOUSE – DOWNSTAIRS HALLWAY – DAY

Florence and James now face off against each other and his face twitches with anger. Florence is scared but trying to remain strong. James takes a step towards her, then falls to one knee. Florence is confused.

James looks down at his body and his hands as they shake. He is betraying himself, it would seem. He looks up accusingly at Florence.

JAMES
What is happening to me?

Florence doesn’t answer. He fear and confusion are still the only emotions evident.

JAMES
What have you done to me? (Beat) How could you do it? I did not think it of you.

James gives her one last look, shudders convulsively, then collapses to the floor.

FLORENCE
I did not think it of you, either.

INT. BATTLECREASE HOUSE – SITTING ROOM – DAY

Through the doorway between the sitting room, the camera takes in James’s prostrate body and comes to rest on the sugar bowl, which actually contained arsenic, sitting on the tea tray in the foreground while James does not move.

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