Bloodless gothic mystery
Bill Nighy has a problem in The Limehouse Golem – and it’s not just tracking down a murderer with a gruesome taste for blood. His Inspector Kildare has been handed something of a poisoned chalice, a case that everybody believes is impossible to solve. He’s been set up to fail.
And, as this thinly disguised Jack The Ripper mystery continues, you begin to think he’s not the only one. For it to succeed even at the most basic level, you have to be kept guessing about the killer’s identity. If you haven’t worked it out by the half way mark, it probably means you’ve dozed off, albeit temporarily.
Based on a novel from Peter Ackroyd, the film takes the real life Ratcliff Highway Murders in Victorian East London as its inspiration, another instance where the killer was never tracked down. The Golem of the title is prolific, leaving cryptic clues in distinctive handwriting to taunt the police, Inspector Kildare in particular. And there’s a number of potential suspects, some fictional and others factual, including Karl Marx (Henry Goodman) and Dan Leno (Douglas Booth). But it’s not the only case on his plate. Music hall performer Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) has been accused of the murder of her husband John (Sam Reid) and Kildare is convinced the two cases are somehow linked.
It’s a film with a great sense of period, re-creating Victorian London superbly well, so much so that you’d swear you can smell the filth in the streets. The scenes in the music hall have plenty of energy, colour and atmosphere, and at one stage threaten to take over the entire film. But great visuals only take you so far. Put them aside, and what you’re left with is a would-be horror with more than enough blood, but little in the way of suspense or mystery. And a film with astonishingly uneven dialogue, one minute contemporary and the next switching to the language of the day. One that, although it was designed for the big screen, would be more at home on Sunday night mainstream telly.
For all its gore, the whole thing is remarkably bloodless and relies on Nighy to see it through. Not that he disappoints, bringing his usual languid style to the role, coupled with being totally at ease in period costume. Olivia Cooke, who will be seen next year in Spielberg’s Ready Player One, does herself more than credit as Lizzie Cree, but the other characters merge into a soundscape of over-cooked Cockney accents, the biggest culprit of the lot being Douglas Booth as Dan Leno, with his Janet Street Porter dentures and sub-Michael Caine voice.
So far, 2017 has turned out to be a better than average year for horror, but even fans of Victorian gothic will find it hard to get excited about The Limehouse Golem. The real mystery is how a film with more than enough strengths has turned out to be such a disappointment.
The Limehouse Golem is released in cinemas on 1st September.