Dir: Juan Carlos Medina | Cast: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Eddie Marsan, Douglas Booth | Fantasy Horror \ UK | 104′
Compelling performances from Bill Nighy and Olivia Cooke fail to save this rather formulaic Ripper story with its florid Burlesque styling and a script as hammy and hackneyed as the Victorian vehicle of its name.
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM is based on Peter Ackroyd’s inventive 1994 novel ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’ interweaving the factual story of death by poisoning with the fictional macabre murders that menaced the East End of London during the 1880s. Best known for his Spanish language feature Insensibles Juan Carlos Medina directs from a lewdly over-stuffed script by Jane Goldman that pictures a set of poorly underwritten but intriguing Victorian characters in this two-pronged murder mystery with a final twist that panders to today’s penchant for gender-switching. A saturnine Bill Nighy stars as Inspector John Kildare – back-footed by allegations of homosexuality – is brought in to investigate an intractable series of gruesome murders so brutal as to suggest some mythical figure – a Jewish folkloric Golem – is at work in the backstreets of Victorian London. Kildare starts to find similarities between these murders and the domestic poisoning of failed playwright John Cree (Sam Reid).
The film opens as Cree is discovered dead by his wife Elizabeth (Cooke), the former “Little Lizzie” of music hall fame, who is also a marital bed-dodger, who employs the services of her Spanish maid to perform her marital duties. Naturally the finger of fate points in her direction due to her practice of preparing a nightly sleeping draught for her husband. But Kildare falls prey to Mrs Cree’s charms buying into her sob-story of childhood suffering from which she rose to respectability dragging herself up by her bodice strings only to be dragged down again in the public perception as the film’s femme fatale. She regales Kildare with stories of having been taken under the wing of cross-dresser and a music hall maestro Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) who’s catchphrase is “Here we are again!”. Desperately trying to forge her own acting career by associating with Eddie Marsan’s salacious stage manager “Uncle” in fierce competition with Maria Valverde’s “Acrobatic Aveline” (Maria Valverde) from whose clutches she ‘won’ Mr Cree, she is played with skill and subtlety by Olivia Cooke in a difficult role.
Meanwhile everyone appears to be a suspect as Kildare’s ongoing investigations hurtle forward at breakneck speed – including Karl Marx (Henry Goodman) and the English novelist George Gissing (Morgan Watkins) all portrayed as sketchily as possible within the claustrophobic two hours – although there’s plenty of time for gore. Technically there is a great deal to enjoy in this closeted costume drama with its distinctly theatrical feel and lighting but it just feels predictable and a little bit like something we’ve all seen before. MT
ON RELEASE FROM 1 SEPTEMBER 2017