The Limehouse Golem Movie Review
Written by Ryan Holloway
Released by Lionsgate UK
Directed by Juan Carlos Medina
Written by Jane Goldman
2017, 109 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
UK theatrical release 1st September 2017
Bill Nighy as John Kildare
Olivia Cooke as Lizzie Cree
Douglas Booth as Dan Leno
Sam Reid as John Cree
Eddie Marson as Uncle
Daniel Mays as George Flood
María Valverde as Aveline Ortega
The Limehouse Golem, based on Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 murder mystery novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem makes its way to the big screen via Jane Goldman’s screenplay and some nifty direction from Painless director Juan Carlos Medina.
It’s 1880 and while a serial killer is loose on London’s streets, Elizabeth Cree (Cooke), a very successful former music hall performer, is charged with the murder of her husband John Cree, played with mysterious vigor by Sam Reid.
The story is told mostly through flashbacks as we learn of Elizabeth’s humble beginnings as a sailcloth sewer and her physical abuse at the hands of her mother.
After a particularly upsetting moment for, the now grown-up, Elizabeth she finds herself wandering the streets where she happens across ‘Uncle’ who is part of a theatre company. She becomes a stagehand who goes on to form a bond with the most popular man on the stage, Dan Leno, played by Douglas Booth who seems to be channeling Russell Brand - this strangely works.
As Elizabeth grows in popularity within the group, who are now treating her like family, she and Leno begin writing gags together and she becomes an integral part of the company.
One night, moments before curtain up, a cast member dies in an accident and Elizabeth takes the opportunity to step in. The audience loves her and she swiftly becomes the talk of the town. This is when she meets John Cree who has dreams of being a playwright. When Cree is murdered, Detective Kildare (Nighy) is brought on board to handle both cases and as the murders get more brutal he learns more about Elizabeth’s rise to stardom and her relationships with her fellow performers and potential suspects as the rising fear of the vicious murderer takes hold of the town.
In many ways The Limehouse Golem is a refreshing return to the simple whodunit? It takes you on a journey as twisty and turny as the streets of its London setting and works by drawing you in and keeping you guessing.
It doesn’t always work however, as the film tries its very best to be compelling till the very end it does get a little too clever for its own good and often gets tiring, with characters becoming more and more clichéd. This isn’t helped by the extra thick layer of cockney accents, which are so over the top you expect them to break into song at any moment.
Nighy owns the screen and shines bright as the jaded Kildare – he hasn’t been this good for a long time, perhaps ever, and is such an incredible presence prowling around the set like a cat, careful and considered. It’s a pleasure to see him in a film that gives him a rich character to play with.
Cooke is also a joy to watch, subtly portraying a character that has been through such anguish but must give an air of distinction as a public figure in a male dominated society.
There is of course enough gore to satisfy the hardened horror fan and an especially disturbing scene in which ‘Uncle’ played by Eddie Marson literally reveals a little too much about himself. The supporting cast is also strong, Spanish actress María Valverde has lots of fun as Elizabeth’s nemesis Aveline, and Daniel Mays who plays Police Officer George Flood is cast perfectly as Detective Kildare’s officer on the case, and as a man who could have more in common with his superior than at first meets the eye.
The film’s aesthetic owes a lot to 2001’s telling of the real-life Jack The Ripper case From Hell, starring Johnny Depp. It's gorgeous to look at with such a richness that practically oozes out of the screen but its subject matter, like From Hell perhaps could have been more effective with a grittier approach. The streets of London at that time were grimy and the gloss of the film never makes you feel like you’re there. This of course is very subjective as the set design is sublime but you can’t help think that the story might just work better on the stage than on the silver screen.
Often compelling, with strong central performances, The Limehouse Golem is a decent watch even if it sometimes feels a little too hokey.