It’s been a long time since I’ve been involved in the theatre. But I can still remember it well. The tension, the glimpses of the crowd behind the curtains before things kick off and then the feeling of getting a line wrong…only to realise the crowd don’t even have the script to berate you about it, let alone notice.
‘The Limehouse Golem’ takes us back to the musical theatre scene in Victorian London. A time before the cinema, when everyone who was anyone would pay a premium for entertainment.
The Limehouse Golem is certainly not a musical though, far from it. The theatre serves as a backdrop for a series of grisly murders. At the start of the film a minor playwright is found dead, it could be suicide…but the Victorian authorities are keen to pin it on his wife, Lizzie (Olivia Cooke) – who is one of the biggest names in the theatre at the time.
As Lizzie awaits trial we’re introduced to the sassy, ageing Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) of Scotland Yard. He’s never handled a murder case before, and then all of a sudden the case of Lizzie’s husband falls into his lap.
As the investigation moves on, it becomes more and more apparent that it could be connected to a serial killer dubbed ‘the Limehouse Golem’. I believe this story (based on Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 novel ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’, was set just before ‘Jack the Ripper’ came to prominence – but there’s certainly a Ripper feel here.
(how creepy is this poster? Source: bloody-disgusting)
The director Juan Carlos Medina dubs this as a ‘horror-thriller’, but I’m not so sure. Watching it, in a darkened cinema, it felt more like an atmospheric mismatch of genres – mostly melodrama (a genre all too forgotten now) with parts of police procedural, killer thriller and a touch of musical thrown in for good measure.
A lot of the tale is told in flashback – mostly about Lizzie’s life as a young woman in Victorian England. And how she rose up against an awful lot of adversity to become successful. The flashback narrative works well for the majority of the piece, although it does lead to it being a little disjointed from time to time…but perhaps that adds to the effect of the unhinged killer who stalks the East End throughout.
Daniel Mays gives a great supporting performance as Kildare’s police partner, and Douglas Booth takes a great turn as Dan Leno – a drag queen who works closely with Lizzie. While Olivia Cooke displays a tour-de-force or emotions as the bold Lizzie, Bill Nighy steals this for me in terms of his performance – it’s great to see him still looking so well, and able to command the lead as the pained Inspector Kildare.
All in all this is a 4/5 for me and I’d recommend it to you. It’s grim, it’s grisly but it’s without moments of humour. However, the mishmash of genres lets it down at times and I couldn’t quite get over the feeling that it didn’t know what it wanted to be when it grew up…so, it depends really on whether or not you appreciate an artistic narrative over a more straightlaced yarn.
by Ashley Brown