The Limehouse Golem




A highly unusual film which may engage different audiences in different ways.

Limehouse Golem, The 

A ripping yarn: Bill Nighy with Olivia Cooke


Jane Goldman made the adept adaptation for the screen of Susan Hill's The Woman in Black but she has a tougher task here tackling Peter Ackroyd's novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. The film drops Dan Leno, the Victorian music hall artist, from the title to put the emphasis on the killer central to the story, a figure comparable to Jack the Ripper and known in the press as The Limehouse Golem. As directed by Juan Carlos Medina, the opening scenes of the film suggest that it will be relatively discreet about showing the violence, but as it goes on it becomes more and more of a gore-fest even if our censor's certificate is 15 rather than 18. Nevertheless, the film is much more out of the ordinary than all this might suggest.


Bill Nighy plays a policeman, John Kildare, investigating the killings and aware of a potential connection between them and another case in which a former music hall artist, a protégée of Dan Leno named Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke), is accused of having poisoned her husband, John (Sam Reid). Kildare comes to believe that, even if she was technically guilty, she had just cause for her action in that she had discovered that John Cree was the Golem. Yet she will not admit that this is the case.


Such a plot might seem a natural source of tension and suspense, but the twisty story plays that element down save in the scenes in which Grand Guignol takes over. That's partly because the police investigation comes up with nothing very striking and partly because we don't know where we stand with any of the characters except Kildare himself. After all, Lizzie may indeed be a murderess and as for the two men in her life, Cree and Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), we are not certain how trustworthy they are. Nevertheless, with regular flashbacks neatly handled by Goldman, we are encouraged to follow Lizzie's past history in a way that means that the horror element sits alongside something else. Yet our concern for and sympathy towards these highly ambiguous characters cannot but be limited.


From all this it might not be obvious that The Limehouse Golem is at heart a playful piece as is apparent when it sets up such real-life figures as Karl Marx and George Gissing as possible killers (each is seen  committing a Golem murder before the possibility of actual guilt is dismissed!). In addition, the Victorian setting becomes home to a work touching on issues of sexuality and identity, even if these seem to be handled as part of the entertainment rather than in any genuinely significant manner. Inevitably The Limehouse Golem is poles apart from the one British film that embraced 19th century music hall, Champagne Charlie (1944). The films that seem closest to it for varying reasons are Se7en (1995), From Hell (2001) and Christopher Nolan's The Prestige (2006). The cast is able (Cooke and Eddie Marsan, the latter in a supporting role, stand out, but it may be that Alan Rickman, originally cast, would have brought more to the role of Kildare than the acceptable Nighy does). In any event, The Limehouse Golem is such a strange mixture that it holds us by being intriguingly odd rather than truly satisfying.




Cast: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Eddie Marsan, Daniel Mays, María Valverde, Henry Goodman, Amelia Crouch, Peter Sullivan, Morgan Watkins, Adam Brown, Damien Thomas, Keeley Forsyth, Mark Tandy, Paul Ritter, Clive Russell.


Dir Juan Carlos Medina, Pro Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley, Joanna Laurie and Caroline Levy, Screenplay Jane Goldman, from the novel Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd, Ph Simon Dennis, Pro Des Grant Montgomery, Ed Justin Krish, Music Johan Söderqvist, Costumes Claire Anderson.


Number 9 Films-Lionsgate.
109 mins. UK. 2016. Rel: 1 September 2017. Cert. 15.