27th Dec2017

‘The Limehouse Golem’ DVD Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Daniel Mays, Sam Reid, Maria Valverde, Henry Goodman, Eddie Marsan | Written by Jane Goldman | Directed by Juan Carlos Medina


If you know your mythical creatures, the title (and, indeed, the IMDb synopsis) of this period horror movie might give you unreasonable expectations for its content. However, instead of the monster from Jewish folklore, the Limehouse Golem here is essentially a nick-name for a (fictional) Jack the Ripper-like slasher terrorising the East End of Victorian London.

Directed by Juan Carlos Medina (his English language debut after 2012′s Painless) and adapted from a 1994 novel by Peter Ackroyd (Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem), The Limehouse Golem opens with former music hall star Elizabeth “Little Lizzie” Cree (Bates Motel’s Olivia Cooke) being arrested for the murder of her husband, failed journalist John Cree (Sam Reid). That brings her to the attention of Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy), who’s been tasked with solving a string of grisly murders in London’s Limehouse district.

Though he suspects he has been set up to fail by Scotland Yard (owing to a prevailing rumour that he is “not the marrying kind”), Kildare pursues the investigation and becomes convinced that Cree is his chief suspect. Meanwhile, Elizabeth relays her life story to Kildare from behind bars, which includes the story of her rise to music hall stardom and the bizarre nature of her marriage to Cree.

A last minute replacement for Alan Rickman after ill health forced him to abandon the project (the film is dedicated to the late actor by way of tribute), Bill Nighy is terrific as Kildare, suppressing his usual brand of quirky camp and delivering a performance with touching emotional depth, as he comes to view Elizabeth as a kindred spirit. Similarly, Cooke is delightful as “Little Lizzie”, taking the character on a compelling journey from a dark and haunted past to a veritable awakening on the music hall stage – under the tutelage of cross-dressing impresario Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) – and finally to an unconventional relationship with Cree.

In addition, Medina adds colour with a lively supporting cast that includes: Daniel Mays as Kildare’s loyal assistant, Constable Flood; Eddie Marsan as the jittery music hall stage manager “Uncle”; Maria Valverde as Elizabeth’s jealous love rival and fellow performer Aveline the Acrobat (who plays a significant part in the Cree marriage); and Graham Hughes as a salacious dwarf.

The main problem is that Jane Goldman’s script is far too convoluted, incorporating multiple flashbacks from different characters, as well as fantasy murder scenarios, each time Kildare imagines a different suspect committing the crime. Hilariously, one of these suspects is none other than Karl Marx (Henry Goodman) himself (wrong place, wrong time, you see?), and while there’s definite camp value in the sight of Marx sawing someone’s head off, those scenes end up highlighting the fact that the film hasn’t made enough of the murders elsewhere.

To that end, the murder scenes are suitably grisly, but they’re never actually scary, and there’s no sense of the widespread fear the Golem is supposedly generating, or any real threat for the main characters. What’s more, in addition to short-changing the horror and suspense aspects, the script also fails to provide a satisfying mystery, since the identity of the Golem is eminently guessable from about the half-way mark. (It’s fair to say that an actual Golem would have been much more exciting).

On top of that, Goldman’s dialogue occasionally falls short of the mark, though at least the assorted Cockney accents aren’t as egregiously awful as those of Heather Graham and company in 2001′s similarly-themed From Hell.

Despite its flaws, however, The Limehouse Golem is never less than watchable, thanks to a pair of terrific performances from its two leads and the enjoyable bawdiness of the music hall sequences.

**½  2.5/5

The Limehouse Golem is on DVD and Blu-ray now from Lions Gate Home Entertainment.


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