By midlandsmovies, Sep 10 2017 08:27PM
The Limehouse Golem (2017) Dir. Juan Carlos Medina
Bill Nighy stars as an 1880s Inspector named John Kildaire who inherits an East London multiple murder case in this period chiller adapted from Peter Ackroyd's 1994 novel ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’. In a parallel story, a court case ensues as a fantastic Olivia Cooke (as put upon wife Elizabeth Cree) is accused of poisoning her husband and thus begins a mystery of two entwining cases.
Framed with multiple flashbacks, the initial set up is superbly done as characters arrive in the middle of their own circumstances throwing us straight into the plot. The lighting of the film is of particular high quality and worthy of mention on its own. The dark blacks, stark lighting, cold eerie streets and warm theatrical interiors echo David Fincher’s Se7en. And it’s not the only Se7en comparison to be made. Early on we get an old Inspector teamed with a young policeman (Daniel Mays) who then head directly to a library and find a book turned into a killer’s hand-written diary using an inky ‘stream-of-consciousness’ writing style. But not a bad film to be influenced by that's for sure.
The horror it doesn’t show leaves the audience in a delightfully edgy position as the murders are mostly left to the imagination and the grotty streets contrast the bawdy theatre scenes nicely. The film’s reliance on flashbacks started well – encapsulating the old filmmaking adage “show-don’t-tell” – but they turn from fleshing out the story to becoming the story. Whilst the two narratives eventually joined up, the intriguing opening detective story makes way for the background of Elizabeth Cree who moves from street urchin to stage star. Unfortunately I was ready and involved in the first part and the film took me down a dark alley as it moved from a mystery to a dramatic fictional biopic of Cree.
That said, the film does use theatre and the notion of “acting” brilliantly. The behind-the-curtain chaos shows the passions and frustrations of artists whilst the stage allows the creation of alternative personas. The great make-up of the film extends from the camp comedy of the boards to the grisly murders in the alleys. Also, multiple layers and repeated sequences translate the novel well by showing each suspect committing crimes as they are recounted – allowing us to “imagine” the different scenarios along with the detective.
On a personal note, the songs and performances within the theatre could have been cut down as full-length musical renditions slowed the immediacy of the “catch-the-killer” set up. Also, and I concede this is in the novel, the mix of real life people (e.g. Karl Marx) in fictional dramas has always felt slightly anachronistic to me. This flight of fantasy was a leap too far out of the film’s world – and into our own.
Its closest relative is the similar fact/fiction mash-up From Hell (2001) and in many ways there is one great film if you combined the two. From Hell’s central narrative thread is stronger but the themes and performances were far superior in this film. With an ending I saw coming for days – from simply one very specific shot I may add – it didn’t ruin the film but the joy only came from seeing how it played out instead of a final plot “surprise”.
Despite my reservations however, there is a lot to recommend in The Limehouse Golem. The technical side is sublime and the actors are having fun with their performances in the film and subsequently their characters’ performances within the film as well. Mixing the gruesome reality of life with the gruesome fictionality of art, the so-so murder mystery plot is kept from the gallows by great actors in superbly dressed and lit locations which show the nasty side of the streets and the stage.
Midlands Movies Mike