The Limehouse Golem
- James Mottram
- 28 August 2017
Bill Nighy and Olivia Cooke impress in this predictable yet atmospheric Victorian thriller
A Victorian whodunit, Juan Carlos Medina's second feature (following Painless) promises much but doesn't always deliver. Based on Peter Ackroyd's 1994 novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, it's a Jack the Ripper-esque tale set in a foggy old London, with shady characters on every doorstep. The titular killer is on the loose and in comes Scotland Yard detective John Kildare (Bill Nighy) to solve a case that has baffled the country's finest minds. Despite support from Daniel Mays' resolute colleague, in Kildare's eyes, he's been set up to fail.
Scripted by Jane Goldman – who did a better job with The Woman in Black than she manages here – it sees Kildare become embroiled with music hall performer Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke), whose husband has just died in mysterious circumstances. The detective suspects this dead spouse of being the Golem and, with Lizzie facing the gallows for his murder, Kildare busts a gut to prove his theory and rescue an innocent woman.
Largely set in the 1880s, the plot zips around in time as it chronicles Lizzie's rise from stagehand to beloved entertainer, working alongside Douglas Booth's singer / drag artist Dan Leno and Eddie Marsan's 'Uncle' – the owner of their little company who, despite the friendly-sounding name, has some rather kinky predilections. In truth, Medina never quite gets to grips with Goldman's ever-shifting script, and struggles to find a consistent rhythm.
There are some shining performers – notably Cooke, who transfixes at times. Rarely cast in such thrillers, Nighy is good value too, yet no cast member is able to overcome a story that telegraphs its twists so blatantly. Lacking any real scares, its ghoulish terror feels muted; but Medina's depiction of Victorian London – particularly the music hall scene – is amply atmospheric.
General release from Fri 1 Sep.