The Limehouse Golem
dir Juan Carlos Medina
scr Jane Goldman
prd Stephen Woolley, Elizabeth Karlsen, Joanna Laurie
with Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Daniel Mays, Sam Reid, Maria Valverde, Eddie Marsan, Henry Goodman, Morgan Watkins, Graham Hughes, Peter Sullivan, Amelia Crouch
release UK/US 1.Sep.17
16/UK 1h49
The Limehouse Golem
Afraid of the dark: Cooke and Nighy

booth mays reid
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Limehouse Golem A too-dense plot very nearly sinks this lively period thriller, which mixes real-life figures from Victorian England with a fictional story that has strong echoes of Jack the Ripper. Looking like it was shot almost entirely in a studio, the movie has a nicely damp, murky production design. But the talky script throws too much into the mix, even if the actors have no trouble making the most of the material.

In 1880 East London, rumour-dogged Inspector Kildare (Nighy) is handed the impossible task of catching the Limehouse Golem, a serial killer staging elaborate murders. Working with Constable Flood (Mays), Kildare narrows the suspects to four men: playwright John (Reid), whose actress wife Lizzie (Cooke) is on trial for poisoning him; lively stage star Dan (Booth); novelist George Gissing (Watkins) and Karl Marx (Goodman). Yes, the Karl Marx. To make sense of this, Kildare becomes embroiled in Lizzie's case, realising that her stage colleagues hold the key to the larger mystery.

Goldman's script attempts to include every plot gyration from Peter Ackroyd's novel, which requires extended flashbacks and imagined scenarios played out on-screen. It looks terrific, shifting from gloomy streets to bawdy music halls to pinched courtrooms. And the cast members have fun with their layered characters, each of whom of course has a motive. At about the mid-point, it's clear who the villain is to anyone paying attention. But the reveal waits until the very end.

Nighy anchors the film with his usual casual sarcasm, lending both gravitas and humour to a man haunted by gossip that he doesn't like women. This adds some enjoyable zing to his interaction with Mays' rather dorky sidekick. Meanwhile, Cooke shines in the central role, adding some singing and comedy to Lizzie's super-dramatic arc. Booth gets to steal scenes as the shameless showman, while Valverde does some spirited glowering as the third in a love triangle.

Such a complicated script requires close attention from the viewer, and director Medina has far too much fun distracting us, cutting away oddly from some key moments while wallowing in others. This is a very busy film, with plenty of intrigue to hold the attention. The unravelling mystery has its joys, although both the sex and violence are bizarrely uneven. And the perspective continually shifts from character to character, leaving us without a central figure we can care about. Still, it's nice to see a Victorian thriller with a queer feminist slant.

cert 15 themes, violence, sexuality 20.Jul.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall