The Limehouse Golem is a horror/murder mystery dealing with a serial killer plaguing the streets of Victorian London in around the 1880s. Nope, not Jack the Ripper, either.
Before the Ripper, fear had another name!
The Limehouse Golem is actually a book adaptation, taken from Peter Ackroyd‘s murder mystery, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. It was adapted for the big screen by Jane Goldman and directed by Juan Carlos Medina (Painless/Medieval).
There have been a collection of visceral and vicious murders in the impoverished area of Limehouse in London. Murders so disgusting that the people cannot believe a human committed them and instead talk of an ancient, evil, mythical creature – a Golem, being to blame. With the city on edge and the police getting nowhere with finding the killer, Detective Kildare (Bill Nighy) is brought in to help. Not because he is particularly good, more because the police need a scapegoat if they fail and Kildare is unpopular.
Kildare and his trusty police constable sidekick, George Flood (Daniel Mays), find a bit of evidence in the library. A book on murder has a hand written diary entry within it explaining in detail about the golem killings. After narrowing down the list of people top visit that room, Kildare is left with 4 possible suspects. Dan Leno, Karl Marx, George Gissing and John Cree. At the same time, another branch of the story is unfolding.
A big star of the music halls, Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke), is arrested for poisoning her husband, John Cree (Sam Reid) on the exact night of the last “golem” murder. There have been no more murders since.
So the stage is set, we have our suspects and a finger unsurely pointing towards John Cree. Time for Kildare to start gathering evidence and narrowing down his list of suspects. He starts by aquiring samples of hand writing from the other three men, the living ones, and visits Elizabeth Cree in jail to see about acquiring some of her now dead husbands. While there he listens to Lizzie’s harrowing story of her upbringing. Her violent mother, her work stitching sails on the docks as a child that led to her being raped and eventually, after her mother died, how she met and became friends with Dan Leno (Douglas Booth). Leno was a huge name in the music halls, often dressing as a woman while singing songs in performances.
Lizzie came to live at the music halls and worked as an assistant to Leno but always aspired to get up on stage herself. She did eventually manage to fulfil that dream and became a huge name in comedic music, second only to Leno. Despite this, she longed to move away from comedy and into drama constantly expressing her desire to be a name that the world remembers forever. She meets a protective man called John Cree. A struggling playwright who is working on a drama. They fall for each other and eventually get married though Lizzie appears to be in it more for the promise of a leading role in his new play.
As Kildare quickly rules out George Gissing and Karl Marx from the enquiry (what a twist that could have been), he seems to settle for John Cree as his main suspect. He is massively sympathetic to Lizzie’s plight and is determined to prove that she only killed her husband because he was the golem. He actually seems much more set on saving Lizzie than anything else but needs to be quick. She has been found guilty and is set to hang in the morning.
Thus begins a race against time as Kildare desperately tries to prove John Cree guilty. He has circumstantial evidence. Cree was in the library. Leno can confirm he was over protective, bordering on aggressive. There were even a couple “accidents” that happened to two people who mistreated Lizzie and then accidentally fell down stairs and the like a day or so after. Can he get enough to stop Lizzie being hanged? Can he get to the gallows on time? Or, more importantly, is Cree even guilty?
The Limehouse Golem is a mostly enjoyable watch with a good deal of suspense and a cracking twist at the end. One of those ones that you only start suspecting right as the film is due to end and one that suddenly makes other parts of the film make absolute sense. I very much enjoyed the way the story is told, through flashbacks filmed multiple times showing different suspects committing the same crimes. The Victorian era looks well created and mostly believable and the scenes set inside the theatre are shot wonderfully, really capturing the chaotic excitement of this past time.
The acting is pretty reliable with Douglas Booth’s Dan Leno being the real star of the show. He portrays a troubled but charismatic actor confidently, coming across more than a little like modern day comic, Russell Brand. Olivia Cooke alos does a stirling job with Lizzie. I personally found Bill Nighy’s character a little flat. He is an actor I really like but it looked like a role he could, and maybe was, sleep walking through. The same goes for PC Flood portrayed by Daniel Mays. He doesn’t really put a foot wrong but is hardly challenged.
You get some decent gore in flashbacks of the killings. On top of that there is plenty of emotional horror in the film through the abuse flashbacks from Lizzie’s childhood. Aided by the Victorian setting, the whole film has a dark undercurrent running through it.
There are some anomalies in the story telling that I didn’t really get. Perhaps because I don’t know the book? The subtle hints that Kildare is unpopular because he may be homosexual seem pointless within the story. They are never explored or elaborated on. Instead they are simply used as a device to explain why they are happy for him to be the scapegoat and then forgotten about. Based on how quickly he grasped Lizzie’s story and became obsessed with freeing her and proving Cree guilty, perhaps they didn’t like him because he was a terrible detective? Perhaps he felt connected to Lizzie through both having hard upbringings. Her with the violence and him with being shunned. I don’t know. It wasn’t explored deeply enough to explain why he became so besotted, so quickly.
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Still, The Limehouse Golem is an interesting and intriguing murder mystery. It comes with a solid twist and contains mostly strong acting and some fantastic visuals. Well worth checking out once.
The Limehouse Golem (2017)