The Limehouse Golem

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Limehouse Golem
"The film has a genuine sense of grand guignol, the Gothic undercurrent of bloody horror"

Jack remains The Unidentified Other and as such fascinates as much as repulses. Code name The Ripper, he specialised in murdering street walkers and girls of ill repute in the East End of London in the foggy years before the turn of the 19th century.

Serial misogynist - tick. Psycho killer - tick. Mystery - tick. Imaginary bogeyman - who knows?

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The Golem in Peter Ackroyd's novel, cleverly adapted by Jane Goldman, is the same and yet different. He/it kills indiscriminately. After the first prostitute anyone/anything goes. As Detective Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) says, "Even madness has its own logic".

In the 1880s, Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) was the most popular variety performer in the country with his own theatre and an enthusiastic fan base. Lizzie (Olivia Cooke) is an orphan whose mother had beaten and tortured her before dying of bad lungs. She is star struck and ambitious - who wouldn't be if the only alternative was poverty and squalor? When Leno offers her a job she leaps at it.

Meanwhile, the killings continue as Lizzie's life escalates from stage foil to wife of a rich wannabe playwright called Cree (Sam Reid). After a number of years, during which time the marriage looks more and more like one of convenience, he is poisoned.

Suicide, or murder?

Lizzie ends up in the dock at the Old Bailey, which is where Kildare comes in. Evidence is beginning to point towards Cree as The Golem. It's either him, Karl Marx, George Gissing or Leno. Suddenly time is running out. Can the intrepid (infatuated) detective solve the mystery before Lizzie is hanged?

The film has a genuine sense of grand Guignol, the Gothic undercurrent of bloody horror. The use of flashbacks as an aid to the storytelling process is handled with imagination. There are surprises; there are shocks; there are revelations. Take nothing for granted. Don't trust the messenger. Even lies are tainted.

Somewhere confusion filters through veils of misunderstanding, leaving the audience guessing. The atmosphere is as thick as soup.

Booth is miscast. He is not a comic actor and gives no indication of Leno's exceptional talent. Nighy plays it straight to such a degree that Kildare requires a smile transplant. Cooke, on the other hand, shines.

What of Jack? He's there by proxy.

Reviewed on: 31 Aug 2017
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The Limehouse Golem packshot
A detective goes on the trail of a serial killer in Victorian London.
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Director: Juan Carlos Medina

Writer: Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Peter Ackroyd

Starring: Olivia Cooke, Bill Nighy, Douglas Booth, Eddie Marsan, María Valverde, Sam Reid, Daniel Mays, Adam Brown, Morgan Watkins, Damien Thomas, Peter Sullivan, Amelia Crouch, Simon Meacock, Siobhán Cullen, Keeley Forsyth

Year: 2016

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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