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The Limehouse Golem - Review

The Limehouse Golem

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

TAKEN at face value, Victorian murder-mystery The Limehouse Golem would have a lot to recommend it, given the strength of its cast and Jack The Ripper-style story.

But while entertaining in fits and starts, Juan Carlos Medina’s film, adapted from Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 novel by screenwriter Jane Goldman, becomes an increasingly frustrating affair that ultimately fails to measure up to the sum of its parts.

In part, this is due to some curious artistic choices, both in terms of the film’s focus and its decision to play things overly grisly. But some performances are either uneven or under-developed too, eventually leading to a wealth of missed opportunities.

Bill Nighy heads the cast as detective John Kildare, a man who operates in 19th Century London, and who has been assigned the unwanted task of finding the Limehouse Golem, a pre-Ripper serial killer who has been targeting men, women and children in the capital.

Among the leading suspects are George Gissing, Karl Marx (yes, that one!) and Dan Leno, as well as the recently deceased failed playwright, George Cree, whose wife – Lizzie (Olivia Cooke) – is now charged with his murder.

Kildare quickly comes to believe that Mr Cree was the Golem and becomes obsessed with proving Lizzie’s innocence, which would save her from the hangman’s noose and potentially put his erratic career back on track.

So far, so intriguing. Yet, as much as you want Medina’s film to pull of a Sherlock Holmes-style tale of murder-mystery solving brilliance, it never really manages to do so.

Nighy is brilliant as Kildare, in a role that requires him to be more serious than usual, and he’s even given a great sidekick in Daniel Mays’ fellow policeman (sergeant George Flood). Cooke also does great work as the tragic Lizzie, whose own journey to suspect status is chronicled via flashback.

But it’s this device that provides the film with its fatal flaw. By opting to spend a lot of its time amid the music hall troupe that Lizzie Cree grew up with, the film takes its eye off the ball in terms of the main investigation.

Here, we are offered a rogues gallery of artisans and deviants, populated by the likes of Douglas Booth’s Dan Leno and Eddie Marsan’s shady uncle. But none of these supporting characters engage as much as the central ones, often weighed down by their own artistic pretensions. Hence, while insights into the music hall life could have been intriguing in a different film, they here feel like a drag on proceedings.

Nighy, for his part, is often relegated to the back-seat of his own investigation, while Mays is left to flounder. Had more time been spent on the two of them, then we may well have been licking our lips at the potential for a sequel.

But Medina also struggles with the film’s tone, too, perhaps over-burdened by the possibilities posed by Goldman’s complex script. The violence is nasty, when it does arrive, with several scenes of butchery towards women feeling unnecessary. Sure, it’s a genre trait to go grisly when it comes to Ripper-style crime, but put together with the sometimes camp and bizzare humour that accompanies the troupe storylines, the tone feels wildly uneven.

A last act reveal is also fairly guessable to genre enthusiasts, which makes a mockery of Medina’s own claim to have been inspired by the great Alfred Hitchcock – a cinema master who always managed to play his cards close to his chest even when toying [or indeed creating his own] genre.

As lofty as the ambitions of The Limehouse Golem are, the film rather criminally wastes so much of its potential. Nighy, Cooke and Mays, in particular, deserved a whole lot better.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 49mins
UK Release Date: September 1, 2017