Director: Juan Carlos Medina
Starring: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Daniel Mays, Sam Reid, Maria Valverde, Eddie Marsan
Run Time: 109 mins
“Let us begin, my friends, at the end”, a theatrical actor states in the film’s first frame before enticing audiences into a thrilling murder mystery blend of fact and fiction. Bill Nighy’s Inspector Kildare, “a man not of the marrying kind”, is thrown straight in the deep end, assigned to a seemingly unsolvable case against the titular Limehouse Golem serial killer. Intertwined to this narrative is the poisoning of John Cree (Sam Reid), who Kildare soon investigates as a suspect to the murders by linking him to a library where the Golem has attended. His actress wife, Elizabeth (Olivia Cooke) is also suspected and brought to trial and Kildare, convinced of her innocence, tries to save her but also use her recounting of events to try and catch the killer.
‘The Limehouse Golem’ is an adaptation by screenwriter Jane Goldman of Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 novel. This material suits Goldman to a tee, previously writing similarly Gothic material such as the excellent ‘The Woman in Black’. The film is directed by Juan Carlos Medina, who previously directed a film called ‘Painless’ which similarly intertwined two stories in the horror genre. An all-star cast round out the film with the ever-reliable Bill Nighy in the lead, replacing Alan Rickman after his sad death. Rising stars Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth also star as does an almost unrecognisable Eddie Marsan who can always be relied on to elevate the quality of a film.
‘The Limehouse Golem’ is generally a solid film and thematically rich, knowingly investigating themes of duality, the theatre and performance, gender and blame. It boasts some very assured performances and particularly in its second half, has some well-executed twists and turns. However, the film is a little cluttered and severely lacks tension. There are many graphic blood splatterings and images of murdered bodies but the intended shock is never earned due to this lack of tension – there never really are any stakes. But when the film finds its footing in its second half and its narrative develops, it’s very solid and I did generally have a good time watching this film.
Elevating the material are the impressive performances by its cast and they don’t disappoint. I can’t remember the last time Bill Nighy has had a lead role in a film, but he is fantastic here as Inspector Kildare and proves why he is one of Britain’s finest actors. Olivia Cooke continues to impress after impressive turns in ‘The Quiet Ones’ and ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’ and proves which she is one of Britain’s rising stars. She suits this film to a tee and really seems to revel in the horror-thriller genre. Douglas Booth’s theatre owner Dan Leno manages to pull off multiple performances that the character plays in productions. Daniel Mays as a policeman, George Flood, shares great chemistry with Nighy’s Inspector and Sam Reid also has good chemistry with Cooke’s suspected murdering wife. The ever-reliable Eddie Marsan, who is almost unrecognisable in this film, plays a very multi-dimensional character who walks a fine line between comedy and sternness.
The script by Jane Goldman is another fine one to add to her resume, who seemingly revels in the material. The film moves at quite a fast pace but not without neglecting to thoroughly investigate its characters and more importantly, its suspects. As the film progresses to its explosive finale, I started to really care for quite a few of its unpredictable characters. Both Medina and Goldman throughly delve into the film’s thematic elements, particularly through metatheatre. The stage is a big presence in the film and it is here that we see multiple sides to these different characters and their duality. It is also a place where both genders are portrayed in ways that challenge convention in their context.
A shortcoming, largely of Medina’s direction more than Goldman’s script is the film’s depriving of tension. There are many instances where the film could have implored more of this particularly prior to each of the grisly murders that are explicitly detailed on-screen, fully earning the film’s 15 rating. Medina, bizarrely, seems to just gloss over these and prioritises gore over what the audience cannot see. Perhaps if he had managed to carve a more nerve-wracking atmosphere prior to showing the murders, this would have been more thrilling but there really isn’t much horror in this film other than some bloody images. There was certainly scope for a more suspense-fuelled film in Goldman’s script but Medina seems to have overlooked this. It’s a testament to the quality of the characters and narrative that the film still manages to succeed.
‘The Limehouse Golem’ is another strong Victorian-set murder mystery film which is elevated by its strong analysis of its core themes. It features some very assured performances and a fine script. I was very satisfied by the film’s climax and where its narrative had developed and the film is generally quite intelligent and thoughtful. What it lacks though is atmosphere and tension which would really have elevated the film and cemented it into more of the horror genre as opposed to the grisly murders feeling quite mechanical and mere plot devices to advance the narrative. Otherwise, a generally solid effort and its plethora of talent do the film proud.