Review: The Limehouse Golem
Jack Bottomley, Media Correspondent
Veterans of the murderer detective genre know its blood splattered corridors very well. Be it a Sherlock Holmes sleuth fest, a Christie whodunit, a Ripper-inspired Victorian tale or a violent investigative narrative.
After a while, you become worryingly acclimatised to this genre and its many investigative strands, which means that seeing something a little different can be a tall task. However, a little different is exactly how one would summarise The Limehouse Golem.
Based on the 1994 novel by Peter Ackroyd, this film sees a ruthless murderer stalking the streets of Victorian London. Veteran police inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is assigned the case but as the mystery looms, the city is abuzz with the trial of stage star Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke), accused of poisoning her husband.
However the two stories seem to inter-twine as Kildare becomes obsessed with uncovering the identity of the Golem and perhaps saving an innocent woman from the hangman's noose as well.
Translated for the screen by Jane Goldman from a story that must have been difficult to adapt, she has done a sterling job with a film that evokes The Hughes Brothers' From Hell, with lashings of Penny Dreadful and an Italian giallo Horror.
This is a gothic mystery, which balances a period setting with some bold new gender/sexual themes that make it compelling for a contemporary audience.
The shadow of the Ripper looms large over the film, despite this being a different pre-Ripper story, and truth be told the twist will likely be foreseeable to tenured genre fans. There is a lot of story packed into 100 or so minutes but Medina's theatrical direction creates a film not always unpredictable but thoroughly engaging all the same.
The violence is shockingly strong and the human plight in certain scenes have a lingering power, as the shadow swathed and fog engulfed London streets are perfectly realised. However, the film's most striking moments perhaps come from the interior scenes, many of which (the playhouse scenes) were filmed right here in Yorkshire, or more specifically at Dalton Mills in Keighley.
These interiors spark to life and the OTT actors and attractions fill the stage and add an uneasy, sleazy and often creepy vintage showbiz angle to this murder yarn.
A yarn that wonderfully tackles issues of hidden homosexuality, feminism issues of an earlier age and how abuse leads to ruin.
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Originally set to star the late great Alan Rickman (who the film is dedicated to at the end of the credits), Bill Nighy makes a fantastic leading figure to this equally intoxicating watch. As Kildare, he feels afflicted by a mostly unclear past and this leads his decisions in the present.
As protagonists go Kildare is flawed, interesting and Nighy gives the part real depth and humanity be it in the face of social injustice or equally aggressive acts of human butchery.
There is also an excellent turn by Douglas Booth as Dan Leno, the flamboyant revered stage actor/comic, who comes to play a great part and constantly expand as the film progresses.
There is also an unsettling turn by Eddie Marsan as hands on playhouse owner 'Uncle' and an endearing performance by Daniel Mays as Kildare's colleague. However this show really belongs to Olivia Cooke, who is incredible as Elizabeth Cree, a part so well rounded, well written and beautifully developed.
Cree is a success of an era that used and abused women but that success comes through suffering and Cooke gives it her all and by the end comes to completely walk away with the film.
The Limehouse Golem is not always easy viewing and some of its darker turns may be too much for audiences (as may the ostentatious elements).
However, this is the point in many ways, this is a film unafraid to rake its nails through the murk and muck of its setting and characters, and be it on stage or on the cobbled streets, it shows that blood runs just as red wherever it drops and that madness is not always logical but it is often cruel.
Well acted, visceral at times, often bizarre and stylishly mesmerising, The Limehouse Golem is a part-locally made gothic chiller that compels you to buy a ticket and enjoy the show.
The Limehouse Golem (15)
Director: Juan Carlos Medina
Starring: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Daniel Mays, Eddie Marsan
Release Date: Out Now
Review: The Limehouse Golem, 4th September 2017, 10:09 AM