Elementary, my dear!
This movie is not without pleasures
Where is Sherlock Holmes when you need him? Late Victorian London’s greatest detective would have cracked the case of The Limehouse Golem wide open with his inductive reasoning, probably in half the time it takes Insp. John Kildare (Bill Nighy) to scamper through the city’s theatrical underbelly in search of a Jack-the-Ripper type. It’s also likely that Holmes would have relied on more forensic evidence than handwriting analysis, Kildare’s go-to method of identification.
But Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 novel, adapted by Jane Goldman (the Kingsman movies), creates a suitably atmospheric if Holmesless setting. Central to the plot is Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke, adroitly juggling a plethora of emotions), who is suspected of murdering her husband, John (Sam Reid), after he is found dead from poisoning.
Kildare is busy investigating the Limehouse Golem killings, as they’ve been nicknamed by the press.
He’s been given this thankless task because he is, in the circumlocutory speech of the time, “not the marrying kind.” When suspicion falls on the late Mr. Cree, Kildare wonders whether Lizzie might be guilty of murdering a murderer. Two wrongs might not make a right, but they’d let the people of East London sleep more easily.
Goldman’s screenplay, brought to life by director Juan Carlos Medina, throws in some red herrings but also a few real-life figures. (Pretty sure Karl Marx isn’t the murderer unless history has completely misjudged him.) Lizzie has spent much of her life in the theatre fending off a variety of unsavoury male colleagues (shades of the Weinstein scandal here), and jealous females while her mentor, Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), does his best to keep her safe.
The solid cast, including Eddie Marsan as a theatre impresario nicknamed Uncle, and Daniel Mays as Kildare’s trusted lieutenant, helps keep the story afloat.
And while the film doesn’t shy away from the grisly nature of the murders, the time period still allows for a touch of refinement. Kildare says they can comprehend the murderer “if we can sink to his circle of damnation.”
And when was the last time a search for clues included the query: “Do you feel like a walk? To the library?”