Film Review: The Limehouse Golem

Words: Miriam Blakemore-Hoy
Monday 18 September 2017
reading time: min, words

Miriam Blakemore-Hoy braved the Victorian-era horror-mystery, and was left feeling pretty impressed...


The stage is set. It is dark outside, but the warm glowing light of the music hall invites us in. The curtain rises, a figure appears: Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) in all his glory declares that we will start the story at the end. The murders have already been carried out – London is being stalked by the self-proclaimed "Golem" and with a fear of mythic qualities, the inhabitants of Limehouse quake in their beds while an impeccably dressed Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) is tasked with hunting the predator out. With four suspects, a pile of bodies and a mess of evidence, Kildare has been made scapegoat by his superior for an impossible-to-solve case. But is all lost? While tailing a lead, he finds a written confession to the murders scrawled in a book at the British Library. With only four men registered in the reading room at the time, he has his four suspects: John Cree, Dan Leno, Karl Marx (yes, the Karl Marx) and George Gissing.

But when John Cree is found poisoned and his young, beautiful actress wife and Leno's protégé, Elizabeth, is arrested for the crime, Kildare believes he has found a link between the two cases. If Cree was the Golem, could he have committed suicide out of guilt? Could Elizabeth have found out and poisoned him to put a stop to his killing spree? Kildare is determined to save her whatever it takes, but as he follows the clues he falls deeper and deeper in the dark and seedy underbelly of the Victorian music hall world.


Bill Nighy is truly remarkable as the repressed and tragic figure of Kildare

Adapted by Jane Goldman, from Peter Ackroyd’s novel, this is not just another Victorian London serial killer story, this is a different animal altogether. Sure, the Golem has precursory qualities to the Ripper – the sliced and butchered victims attest to that. But the motives of this murderer are less easy to determine, you might just think you've figured it out all when the plot turns on its head yet again and brings you right back to square one. Like a tapestry, elements of the story are pieced together, with flashbacks peppered across the timeline. The setting of London also plays a mesmerising part – Victorian Limehouse is gothic, gloomy and brilliantly grim and fantastic, exactly how you would imagine it looked to Charles Dickens as he walked the streets at night. Just the place to birth the horrors and nightmares that lurk round its corners.

Bill Nighy is truly remarkable as the repressed and tragic figure of Kildare. Stepping into the role after the sad passing of Alan Rickman, Nighy really comes into his own; his previous comic roles pale in comparison to the depth and weight he brings to this part. Olivia Cooke steps up to the challenge of meeting Nighy’s performance, portraying a young woman, abused and misused by a world that she seeks to conquer through the stage. Cooke brings a wealth of feeling and personality to the character; her strength lends power to the feminist connotations that thread their way through the plot. And Douglas Booth... flamboyantly brilliant, and no longer just another “pretty boy” – his extraordinarily chiselled face looks more sinister than beautiful, although there is an earthy quality to his act that makes him immensely likeable. I can't make up my mind all the way through the film just which side he is on, if he is on any at all.

Not all of the elements work perfectly, but the charm is in the players and the supporting cast. Roll up ladies and gentlemen, this is a performance to remember.

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