Director: Juan Carlos Medina
Writers: Peter Ackroyd (novel), Jane Goldman (screenplay)
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