The Limehouse Golem Movie Review
Written by Angry Scholar
Released by RLJ Entertainment
Directed by Juan Carlos Medina
Written by Peter Ackroyd (novel) and Jane Goldman (screenplay)
2016, 109 minutes, Not Rated
Released on September 8th, 2017
Olivia Cooke as Lizzie Cree
Eddie Marsan as Uncle
Bill Nighy as John Kildare
Douglas Booth as Dan Leno
María Valverde as Aveline Ortega
Sam Reid as John Cree
Daniel Mays as George Flood
The Limehouse Golem is the story of Lizzie Cree, a famous young actress in 19th-century London who is accused of poisoning her husband John. It’s also the story of the so-called Limehouse Golem, a serial killer who has aligned himself in a vague way with the famous monster of Jewish folklore. (The Golem is called such because one of his victims was a Jewish scholar. The killer left the man’s severed penis “like a bookmark” in a book of Jewish folklore, on a page pertaining to the eponymous clay construct.)
Naturally, this being a murder mystery, the disparate narrative threads are in fact related. Inspector Kildare, a brilliant but disgraced detective (and a newcomer to homicide), is appointed to the Golem case, but finds himself increasingly interested in Lizzie. As Lizzie’s story and those of the Limehouse murders move closer together, Kildare comes to believe that Lizzie may not deserve the punishment society has in store for her.
Much of the narrative occurs via flashbacks. We learn about Lizzie’s past as a seamstress on the London docks, her terrible abuse at the hands of the sailors and her own mother, and her eventual rise to stardom in a gaudy “music hall,” a raunchy working-class theater notorious for blue songs and sketch-style comedy. At the same time, as Kildare pursues the Golem, his search brings him into Lizzie’s world. Her late husband is a suspect—despite being currently dead, there is evidence that he may have been responsible for the Limehouse killings—along with her friend Dan, the novelist George Gissing, and Karl-freaking-Marx. Naturally, though, there are twists and turns and red herrings galore. (I feel a bit silly for not predicting the final twist, but I claim a bottle of Tempranillo in defense.)
The actors do reasonably well with the script they’re given. Bill Nighy is brooding and intense as Inspector Kildare; Olivia Cooke’s Lizzie is charmingly defenseless and frantic; Douglas Booth is immensely likable as Dan Leno, the flamboyant impresario of the theater where Lizzie finds her calling. But everything feels slightly abrupt, hurried, and somehow unfinished, rushing from one set-piece to the next, more focused on the Moulin Rouge-esque costuming and (admittedly interesting) themes (the plight of women in industrializing England; homosexuality in a time and place that forbade it) than on good storytelling.
If you’re more observant than I am, the plot is in fact nothing new, and the “twist” ending is something we’ve seen before. (Again, wine.) The strong points of The Limehouse Golem are the sumptuous costumes and set design, the atmosphere of Jack the Ripper-ish dread, and the beautiful-ness of many of the central cast. The narrative itself is stale, but it’s wrapped in pretty, shiny paper with a nice bow; so if you like shiny things (and who doesn’t?), it may be worth a watch.