A wickedly entertaining chase for a serial killer through the streets of Victorian London comes our way this week, in the dark detective thriller The Limehouse Golem. By Damon Smith
During an ominous lull in Juan Carlos Medina’s macabre murder mystery set on the fog-choked streets of Victorian London almost a decade before Jack The Ripper ran amok, a stage actor draws parallels between his craft and human nature.
“We all wear pantomime masks, do we not?” he posits. Those words resonate with a chill throughout The Limehouse Golem, a stylish battle of wits between Scotland Yard and a diabolical serial killer, which was originally announced with Alan Rickman leading the fine ensemble cast, before his untimely death.
In his stead, Bill Nighy brings solemnity and gravitas to the complex role of a righteous police officer, whose career has been dogged by rumours that “he’s not the marrying kind”. It’s a measured and moving performance, devoid of the deadpan comic shtick that has elevated Nighy in the nation’s affections, and he beautifully conveys his protagonist’s inner turmoil, fully aware that he is being set up as a scapegoat if the killer remains at large.
Jane Goldman’s script, adapted from Peter Ackroyd’s novel Dan Leno And The Limehouse Golem, uses cinematic trickery to keep us guessing about the murderer’s identity until a big reveal when one person’s pantomime mask falls with a delicious and satisfying thud. A series of slayings in the back alleys of 1880s east London, attributed to an elusive figure nicknamed The Golem, baffles Scotland Yard. Inspector John Kildare (Nighy) is hurriedly promoted to lead investigator, primarily to take the fall when police fail to apprehend a suspect.
“The public wants blood, The Golem provides it,” ruefully notes Kildare to Constable George Flood (Daniel Mays), his sole ally, who is intrigued by scurrilous whispers about his superior’s sexuality.
As the case gathers pace, evidence focuses attention on four prime suspects: journalist John Cree (Sam Reid), music hall performer Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), novelist George Gissing (Morgan Watkins) and philosopher Karl Marx (Henry Goodman).
Kildare’s gut instinct points to Cree.
He was recently murdered by his wife Elizabeth (Olivia Cooke) and the inspector surmises she glimpsed her husband’s dark side and poisoned John to end his reign of terror. Testimony from the Crees’ spiteful maid Aveline (Maria Valverde) condemns Elizabeth to the gallows and Kildare races against time to prove his theory before the noose tightens around the wife’s neck.
The Limehouse Golem sustains the element of surprise and doesn’t stint on blood and gore. Nighy plays a brilliant yet emotionally guarded man, who hopes the tricky case will reveal a path to personal redemption. Cooke is luminous and Mays and Booth deliver textured supporting performances. Period detail is lovingly shrouded in shadows and fog to provide the killer with the perfect cover to commit their unspeakable acts of barbarity. Something wickedly entertaining this way comes.
The Limehouse Golem (15) is out on Friday
Bill Nighy as Inspector John Kildare and Olivia Cooke as Elizabeth Cree in The Limehouse Golem
Olivia Cooke in a scene with Douglas Booth as Dan Leno
Olivia Cooke with Maria Valverde as Aveline Ortega