The Limehouse Golem

The Signal - - FOOD & ENTERTAINMENT - By Richard Roeper

“THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM” Three stars ★★★

John Kil­dare ....... Bill Nighy

El­iz­a­beth Cree ..... Olivia Cooke

Dan Leno ........... Dou­glas Booth

Ge­orge Flood ....... Daniel Mays

John Cree .......... Sam Reid

RLJ En­ter­tain­ment presents a film di­rected by Juan Car­los Me­d­ina. Writ­ten by Jane Gold­man, based on the novel “Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem” by Peter Ack­royd. No MPAA rat­ing. Run­ning time: 105 min­utes.

No doubt the bud­get for “The Limehouse Golem” was but a pit­tance of the mon­e­tary mus­cle be­hind “IT,” that OTHER scary movie de­but­ing this week­end, but this nasty lit­tle Vic­to­rian London hor­ror film has more than a few blood-soaked charms of its own.

Based on a novel by Peter Ack­royd and di­rected with style by Juan Car­los Me­d­ina (with an ef­fec­tively sharp script from “Kick-Ass” scribe Jane Gold­man), “The Limehouse Golem” ben­e­fits greatly from two ter­rific per­for­mances: the in­valu­able and ever-dry Bill Nighy as a Scot­land Yard de­tec­tive, and Dou­glas Booth as a cross-dress­ing mu­sic hall per­former of con­sid­er­able note (so to speak) who might just hold the key to a se­ries of grisly mur­ders ter­ror­iz­ing the city of London.

This is one of those his­tor­i­cal scary movies com­bin­ing real-life events and peo­ple with fic­tional scenes and wholly in­vented char­ac­ters.

Booth’s char­ac­ter of Dan Leno is based on a real-life mu­sic hall singer and co­me­dian who achieved some suc­cess but later went mad. Ge­orge Giss­ing (played by Mor­gan Watkins) was an ac­tual writer of the time.

Will it mat­ter if you know which por­tions are true and which are pure fic­tion? Nah. The sure bet is vir­tu­ally noth­ing we see here tran­spired in this man­ner in the London of 1880 (or in the flash­back se­quences). The Limehouse Golem mur­ders, while ob­vi­ously in­flu­enced in some mea­sure by the Jack the Rip­per case, are pure fic­tion. So let’s get on with it.

Nighy plays In­spec­tor John Kil­dare, who is in the lat­ter stages of a ca­reer best de­scribed as spotty. Kil­dare has been as­signed to the Limehouse Golem mur­ders, but only af­ter a num­ber of more dis­tin­guished in­ves­ti­ga­tors have failed to solve the Rip­per-like se­ries of killings. Kil­dare has been handed the case so he can be­come the fall guy when the mur­ders re­main un­solved. He is aware of this, but it does not de­ter him from try­ing to fig­ure out this un­holy mess.

(“Limehouse” refers to a no­to­ri­ous district in Vic­to­rian London rife with crime and poverty. The Golem is an of­ten fright­en­ing crea­ture from Jewish folk­lore.)

When the failed writer John Cree (Sam Reid) is found dead, sus­pi­cion im­me­di­ately falls to his wife, El­iz­a­beth (Olivia Cooke). But while in­ves­ti­gat­ing that crime, Kil­dare be­gins to won­der if the mur­der of John Cree is ac­tu­ally the work of ... The Limehouse Golem! In flash­back se­quences, we learn about the back­ground of El­iz­a­beth, once known as the mu­sic hall singer “Lit­tle Lizzie.” We’re in­tro­duced to Dan Leno, who achieved his great­est fame in cross-dress­ing parts. And we meet any num­ber of col­or­ful char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing a friendly stage man­ager (Ed­die Marsan from “Ray Dono­van”) and a horny lit­tle per­son (Gra­ham Hughes).

Mean­while, in present day – that is to say, 1880 London – Kil­dare’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­comes in­creas­ingly com­plex (and some­times hard to fol­low), as he be­gins to won­der if the vic­tim John Cree him­self could have been the Limehouse Golem. But there are a num­ber of other sus­pects, in­clud­ing Karl Marx (Henry Good­man) – yes, THAT Karl Marx.

Nighy leaves be­hind his trick box of winks and sly smiles and sar­casm for a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward per­for­mance, and wisely so. As out­landish as the ma­te­rial can get in “The Limehouse Golem,” this is se­ri­ous stuff. (The film is ded­i­cated to the late Alan Rick­man, orig­i­nally cast as In­spec­tor Kil­dare.)

Set de­sign, cos­tumes and pro­duc­tion val­ues are all first-rate, be­fit­ting a film of much larger scope.

IMDB Im­ages

The Limehouse Golem mur­ders, while ob­vi­ously in­flu­enced in some mea­sure by the Jack the Rip­per case, are pure fic­tion. Set de­sign, cos­tumes and pro­duc­tion val­ues are all first-rate, be­fit­ting a film of much larger scope.

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