Film review by Jason Day of The Limehouse Golem, a Victorian thriller about gruesome murders starring Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Eddie Marsan and Douglas Booth.
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In 1880’s East End London, before Jack the Ripper committed his atrocities against prostitutes in that area, another serial killer was on the loose.
The Limehouse Golem was tearing up victims, irrespective of gender, profession or social class, own an equally discriminate manner.
Review, by Jason Day
Grimy, sexy, sweaty Victorian London and its ability to create, hide and then execute the most heinous of its citizens is chronicled in this smart thriller.
The film is based on the novel by Peter Ackroyd, who has previously chronicled the history of London. He see the capital as a living, breathing organism capable of growth, evolution and disease rather than just a capital city with building and people milling within it.
The Limehouse Golem trades on the murders and myths of yesteryear some of which, like Jack the Ripper, still intrigue us to this day. In screenwriter Jane Goldman’s hands, she gives it a fittingly female twist.
Goldman, wife of alleged film critic Jonathan Ross, is one of the most bankable scribes in the business.
From the glib whimsy of Stardust (2007), the riotous teen action hero flick Kick Ass (2010 and it’s 2013 sequel) and then on to the Kingsman films, this sassy, dyed-red Countess of cinema consistently plots and delivers the goods.
She peppers the pages of this script with a liberal dash of everything TV’s Victoria would turn its nose up at.
Child rape, child neglect and abuse, grinding poverty, alcoholism, flagrant adultery, loud, rutting sex, sociopathy and serial murder. For Goldman, this is all in a day’s penning…and thank heavens for that!
She also has form with this genre having writtenThe Woman in Black (2012), hence the stylistic similarities.
For that film, Goldman rejected the stageversion’s flashback narrative device. For this movie, she fully utilises a framing device as Music Hall star Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) punctuating the story with asides to his audience (and by extension, us) about what is going on in the movie.
Thankfully, Goldman doesn’t over use this and ceases it when the murders have gathered apace and the story ups the psychological ante.
Bang on target, too, are the crude and bawdy music hall songs (composer – Johan Söderqvist), dripping with sexuality and washed down with lashings of beer.
There is a certain ‘Sherlock Holmes-ian’ feel to Bill Nighy’s character, a rigorously logical, patient, methodical Victorian Detective. But where Holmes was upper class, facaestious, pedantic, arrogant and dogmatic, Nighy is not a more human investigator, cooler and more snappily attired – a real smoothie.
It helps that he plays well alongside the mightily impressive Olivia Cooke, here a chimera of psychology as Lizzie. This huge-eyed, expressive actress inhabits the same world on film as Lillian Gish did in Broken Blossoms (1919), playing another abused East End woman. Like Gish, Cooke has an indomitable spirit and in her scenes with Nighy, we feel the force of conviction as someone fights for justice, revealing the most painful of childhood memories in the process.
The supporting cast traverse a high-wire like the one that topless star Maria Valverde does, either artistically (Booth’s riotously buck-toothed actor is a hit as is Valverdes’ as the slatternly maid) or falling straight off (we can do with less screen-time for unconvincing S&M pervert Eddie Marsan and over-earnest copper Daniel Mays).
What is most convincingly realised is the production design in this film. From the grimy, smoke-clad industrial landscape of poverty-riddled London, the dark interiors of the police headquarters and Lizzie’s house, to the riotous reds and golds that are associated with the Music Hall, we see visually why Lizzie sees this as home, a refuge, the place for her to leave behind her appalling childhood and to be reborn.
It’s a London that consumes it’s people as fast as it births them, something that I suspect Ackroyd would be jolly happy to see and making Limehouse Golem a gripping, intelligent and eminently watchable thriller.
For more, see the official Lionsgate website for the trailer.
Cast & credits
Director: Juan Carlos Medina. 109mins. Production Nine Films. (15)
Producers: Elizabeth Karlsen, Joanna Laurie, Stephen Woolley.
Writer: Jane Goldman.
Camera: Simon Dennis.
Music: Johan Söderqvist,
Sets: Grant Montgomery.
Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Eddie Marsan, Douglas Booth, Maria Valverde, Sam Reid, Daniel Mays, Adam Brown, Henry Goodman.