Dir: Juan Carlos Medina
Starring: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth
Run time: 109 mins approx.
In cinema and television history there have been countless interpretations of the Jack the Ripper killings but now The Limehouse Golem has put another Victorian serial killer, albeit a fictional one, in the spotlight. This makes for a refreshing change and allows the story to entertainingly subvert expectation, especially as the film peers through the murk of 19th century London with a somewhat feminist-tinted monocle.
The film, adapted by British screenwriting jewel Jane Goldman (Stardust, X-Men: First Class, Kingsman) from Peter Ackroyd’s novel, finds stoic detective John Kildare (Bill Nighy) on the trail of the eponymous murderer and met with a ludicrous suspect list comprising Karl Marx, George Gissing and cross-dressing music hall legend Dan Leno. It’s the latter, played with winning charisma by Douglas Booth, who proves most intriguing as through him we delve into the life of underdog street urchin-turned-stage star-turned abused wife, Lizzie ( Olivia Cooke, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl).
Lizzie is everything we don’t see in the Ripper stories (a female character with more than a corpse/prostitute role, for one) and Goldman has done a fantastic job in writing a woman who subverts the victim stereotype and whose intense determination and grit sees her succeed in a world where women were barely allowed to tread. The story begins with her apparently murdering her husband, John Cree, and immediately being carted off to prison. Here, she becomes Kildare’s focus as he gradually comes to the conclusion that this Mariticide was one of self-defence when Lizzie discovered Cree’s second life as The Limehouse Golem. From here we enter a fraught but slightly predictable final act in which the tension mounts as Kildare seeks evidence to support his case and Lizzie edges ever closer to the hangman’s noose.
This is only director Juan Carlos Medina’s second feature film and it does show a little in the slightly heavy-handed over-grimification of 1800’s London. However, with an enjoyable story, an impressively fresh unsmiling performance from Nighy and promising turns and displays of comedy chops from Cooke, Booth and Daniel Mays (Ashes to Ashes, Line of Duty) as an officer assisting Kildare, this is a heartily recommended watch and unmissable for fans of Victoriana and the murder mystery genre.
Review by Genevieve Taylor