The Limehouse Golem (2017): Gore and greasepaint in Old London Town

Film

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Director: Juan Carlos Medina 

Writers:  Peter Ackroyd (novel), Jane Goldman (screenplay)

Stars: Olivia CookeEddie Marsan, Douglas Booth , Maria ValverdeDaniel MaysBill Nighy,

Set in the gloomy East End of London, The Limehouse Golem is a gory Victorian whodunnit with a gloriously twisted difference.

Directed by Juan Carlos Medina (director of 2012 film Painless) the film is based on a 1994 novel by Peter Ackroyd, “Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem”, a metafictional pastiche on the Victorian ‘shocker’ which interwove theatrical drama around a spate of murders, featuring real-life historical figures from Leno himself (a lauded music hall star) to the very-much-original Marxist, Karl Marx. The unusual source material has been adapted for the screen by Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Stardust scribe Jane Goldman, who has added additional layers to the tale shifting the action away from the famous men, and back to a female perspective.

The films starts with curtains drawing back on the stage with the words “Let us begin my friends, at the end” uttered by Dan Leno, (Douglas Booth, escaping his usual type-casting as pretty posh-boy for a wonderful outing as a cockney music hall blend of Freddie Mercury and Russell Brand) and so the tale begins to be told, shifting between flashbacks aided by voiceovers to the escalating events relating to the central storyline.

Bill Nighy plays John Kildare, a detective with a stalled career (“he’s not the marrying kind”, said with a knowing head nod) who is brought in by Scotland Yard to carry the can on the stalled investigation of a series of extremely brutal murders in the largely Jewish area of Limehouse. The murder victims have ranged from prostitutes to elderly men and children, with seemingly no pattern to the killings, other than the gruesome tableaus the murderer leaves behind.

Kildare is paired with enthusiastic native Eastender, Constable George Flood (played with some aplomb by the ever fabulous Daniel Mays), who has recently been investigating the death of a playwright, John Cree. Cree’s wife Lizzie (Olivia Cooke), herself an ex-music hall star, stands accused of her husband’s murder and will face the death penalty if found guilty. The two cases begin to interweave as Kildare finds himself fascinated by Lizzie Cree’s rags to riches tale, learning how she was abused as a child, the two outsiders become drawn together, with the detective going to desperate lengths to save her.

The Limehouse Golem is a wonderfully atmospheric, Victorian murder mystery, with a twist in the tale. Elements of Hammer horror meet scenes which wouldn’t have felt out of place in Se7en, with the odd bawdy song and dance routine thrown in for good measure. The production design is beautifully realised, with the grim and grimy back alleys of Limehouse contrasting with the grease-paint of the music hall and the splendour of Lizzie’s married life.

Olivia Cooke as Lizzie is terrific, playing on her wide-eyed innocence with some joy, drawing us in as she recounts her tale to Kildare from her prison cell.

“You don’t need saving,” Kildare tells Lizzie. “Not by me. Not by any man.” While it is the famous men whose names initially draw the detective’s eye, this is a film about women claiming centre-stage.

8 out of 10

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) review: Burton’s peculiar take on YA

Film

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Director: Tim Burton Writers: Ransom Riggs (based upon the novel written by), Jane Goldman (screenplay) Stars: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson

‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ is so Tim Burton, it feels like it could have been specifically written for him! Jake (Asa Butterfield) is an outsider, his parents tolerate him, everyone at school ignores him and he feels in some way different. The only person he is truly close to is his grandfather, Abe, (Terence Stamp), a man who believes in the magical and tall tales. Following Abe’s untimely demise, Jake finds himself taking a trip to Wales, accompanied by his wonderfully passively-neglectful father (Chris O’Dowd), trying to track down the children’s home where Abe grew up, to help him piece together the mystery of the man he misses so dearly. Upon arrival at the children’s home Jake is plunged into a world of peculiar children; one of whom is lighter than air, one stronger than 10 men and one who has a whole hive of bees living inside them, all overseen by Scary Poppins, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). Oh, and they’re now in 1943, live the same day over and over again, ‘Groundhog Day’ style, and are being chased by monsters. Still with me? If anyone other than Tim Burton directed this, it would have been a nonsense.

The first act of the film sees Burton and cast on top form, with the pastel-coloured Hopper-esque Florida homes reminiscent of those in ‘Edward Scissorhands’, paving way to the dark dreary Welsh island where the children’s home stands. The characters seem profoundly real, and Jake’s need to connect with his grandfather proves to be a powerful drive, providing a good emotional scaffold to the tale. Indeed, during this first act it appeared this was a film that could rival Harry Potter in it’s imagination, scope and sense of whimsy.

However, the film seems to lose it’s way once it disconnects with reality entirely. The early scenes of Jake travelling through the ‘loop’ (the plot device explaining how the children remain shielded from the real world) from the dark and rain of Wales to the seemingly idyllic sunshine bathed children’s home in 1943 work well, as Burton explores the disconnect between fantasy and reality, unpicking Jake’s grieving process.

Rather than becoming the next Harry Potter, the narrative seems to drag the film down into becoming the next generic YA outing. You know, the one where Percy Jackson fights immortal trolls in a maze, and heals the rifts in a divided society, all the time finding out who he is as a person.

A whole raft of faux-mythic words are unleashed upon the audience as ‘ymbrines’ (Miss Peregrine herself is one, capable of creating a time-loop, turning into a bird, and entrusted with the care of the titular peculiar children), and ‘hollowgasts’ (‘peculiars’ who were transformed into terrifying eyeball eating, invisible creatures) take centre-stage, over-shadowing the very charming tale of Jake and his grandfather.

Then Samuel L. Jackson’s Barron (head hollowgast) bursts into the plot, in full comic-book bad guy mode, (providing the Johnny Depp element, perhaps?) and drags the film even further into the realms of the silly.

Those criticisms aside, ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ still feels like a return to form for Burton, as he captures both the gothic and magical elements of the story and the dreary mundane heartbreak of reality with some style. The connect between the Hollowgasts and the horrors Abe’s grandfather endured during his time in Poland during WWII is made subtly, and with care. Visually it is pure Burton, playing with colour-palettes and surreal and uncanny imagery. He even indulges in paying homage to other films, with nods to Ray Harryhausen and Stanley Kubrick (“Heeeerrrre’s Samuel!”) peppered throughout.

The fact the original novel was written around some intriguing photographs speaks volumes. The images here are clear and precise, but the narrative feels somewhat secondary.

Largely enjoyable, if overly long and peppered with over-cooked YA tropes (when an intriguing story about family bonds lay underneath it all), ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ will probably prove to be a popular addition to future Christmas TV schedules, but is ultimately quite forgettable.

6 out of 10