Disappointingly silly mystery that’s far too easy to solve
IT’S 1880. In London’s East End a killer is horribly mutilating his victims. Meanwhile, a music hall star is on trial for murder, accused of poisoning her husband. A police detective believes the unsolved crimes and the trial are connected. If he finds the Limehouse Golem, then the lady in the dock will go free.
There’s no doubt this new British gothic thriller has some very tasty ingredients. It’s adapted from the well-received novel Dan Leno And The Limehouse Golem, by Peter Ackroyd, a man with a Midas touch for melding historical fact and fancy.
Its setting, eight years before Jack the Ripper’s very real serial spree in nearby Whitechapel, touches on the public’s enduring interest in the Victorian period’s more lurid aspects, one recently indulged by TV’s excellent Ripper Street. And it stars that national treasure Bill Nighy as the indomitable cop.
However, the film falls far short of being the sum of its parts. Adapted by Jane Goldman, whose success has resided in comic book action movies, and directed by the relatively inexperienced Juan Carlos Medina, it’s a clunky, clichériddled, often laughably silly affair. Worst of all, for a thriller that depends upon mystery, it’s very, very easy to solve.
It starts with a performance by crossdressing music hall comedian Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) as he re-enacts the trial of his one-time stage partner Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) and tantalisingly evokes the spectre of the Limehouse Golem, who has yet to be apprehended by the police.
Off-stage, John Kildare (Nighy) is assigned to the case. This isn’t a promotion but a poisoned chalice. The new man lined up as a scapegoat. Whatever his boss’s intentions, he’s determined to make the most of his new case.
And this is the chief disappointment. Rather than a wrongly ostracised man revealing himself to be an ace detective and shoving it to his bigoted peers, poor Kildare falls under the spell of the alluring Ms Cree, is convinced her incarceration is linked to the Golem and, in his platonic determination to free her, rapidly loses the plot. With Kildare turning into a dolt, the film’s potential as an atmospheric and terrifying detective mystery is nipped in the bud.
There’s an awful lot of effort – endless flashbacks of Lizzie’s impoverished beginnings and rise to fame, lame court scenes, stock moments of gory despatch. But none of it succeeds in creating an atmosphere. The most involving moments are within the world of the music hall, with Booth demonstrating some chops as Leno, and the ever-dependable Eddie Marsan terrific as the deceptively avuncular manager with a perverted pastime.
But Ackroyd’s striking conceit of
including real-life figures among the suspects – Leno himself, Karl Marx and the writer George Gissing – is wasted. In Medina’s hands the scenes involving these figures, with Kildare visualising each as the killer, are horribly hammy.
Nighy, of course, can do an awful lot with ham. Ironically, here he’s playing dead straight – not his forte. Kildare is no Sherlock Holmes. And, rather than being a big-screen Ripper Street, The Limehouse
Bill Nighy as Inspector John Kildare and Olivia Cooke in The Limehouse Golem