Dis­ap­point­ingly silly mystery that’s far too easy to solve

Sunday Herald Life - - FILM REVIEW - By Demetrios Matheou

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

Pho­to­graph: PA/Lion­s­gate Films/Ni­cola Dove

Bill Nighy as In­spec­tor John Kil­dare and Olivia Cooke in The Limehouse Golem

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