Director: Juan Carlos Medina
Starring: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Daniel Mays, Sam Reid, María Valverde, Henry Goodman, Morgan Watkins, Eddie Marsan
“Here we are again…!”
Adapted from Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 novel “Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem”, The Limehouse Golem has been floating around for a while now, with Alan Rickman (RIP) originally cast in the lead role, and it has fallen to Juan Carlos Medina and screenwriter Jane Goldman to bring it to the screen. Set in the dark, baroque 19th century, there’s plenty of opportunity for atmosphere building and slightly peculiar methods of murder and investigation.
Opportunity doesn’t always resolve successfully, however.
Victorian London is shaken by a series of unconnected, grisly murders. Upon discovery, victims are near unrecognisable and cryptic messages are daubed on the walls in blood. With no police leads, the public begins the fear the perpetrator is a mythical creature from dark times long gone – the Golem. Tasked with solving the mystery and ending the Golem’s reign of death is Inspector Kildare (Nighy) – assigned his first murder investigation and fully aware he is being set up to fail (to save face for the force and their golden officers).
After the last murder occurs, music hall star Elizabeth Cree (Cooke) is accused of poisoning her husband, John (Reid) and sentenced to death by hanging. Striking up a connection with her, Kildare is determined to uncover the identity of the Golem and also prevent the hanging of Elizabeth. With his right-hand man, George Flood (Mays), at his side, Kildare begins the investigation using a handwritten diary of the Golem’s crimes that takes to various haunts and numerous persons across Limehouse and the music hall scene.
The story darts between clunky flashbacks, prison conversations and the bizarre music hall shows of the time as Kildare delves deeper into the investigation and Elizabeth’s story is told in reverse. Aligning herself with current music hall star Dan Leno (Booth) as a way to escape her stifled life and to further her career ambitions, she comes up against show rival Aveline (Valverde) consistently as she muscles her way to the top and meets her future husband, reporter and budding writer, John Cree. She is the only suspect when her husband is eventually found dead and Kildare attempts to use her knowledge of the scene to unravel the mystery of the Golem. Olivia Cooke is the movies bright light and, along with Douglas Booth, carry the movie with their performances. I enjoy Bill Nighy’s works, however his performance here is stilted and reduced to expository device – Alan Rickman wouldn’t have been particularly enthralling either with the restricted role.
The writing is confusing and hollow. There are many inconsistencies throughout the movie – why does the movie seemingly give away the twist so clearly early on? (coldly destroying the key element of a murder-MYSTERY movie). Kildare’s sexuality is mentioned with no exploration or conclusion. How does George Flood become confused by Kildare’s constant visits to Elizabeth without following up his concerns? There is more effort put into ensuring the music hall aspect is enjoyable and dramatic, as well as portraying the murders as theatrical events, than creating a tense murder-mystery story which is a shame as there are a lot of good ingredients here to work with.
The music hall efforts are the movies more positive moments, allowing for some offbeat jokes and dance numbers, and lending greater characterisation and atmosphere than the scripted moments of tension. It’s also pretty gory in its depiction of the murder scenes and if you like floppy, severed penises, you’re in for a treat.
Maybe The Limehouse Golem would have worked better as a TV series, with more time given to allow the story to be fleshed out in greater detail and give the cast greater representations – thus giving the viewer more to feel as the story unfolds. As it stands, the movie is a very mediocre stab at a murder-mystery.
September 9th 2017