sat 25/11/2017

The Limehouse Golem review - horrible history with a twist | reviews, news & interviews

The Limehouse Golem review - horrible history with a twist

The Limehouse Golem review - horrible history with a twist

Bill Nighy steps into Alan Rickman's shoes to solve yet more murders in Victorian London

Curiosity: Bill Nighy, shorn of his trademarks tics and tricks as Inspector John Kildare

How many more throats must be slit in 19th-century London before the river of blood starts to clot? The Limehouse Golem follows the gory footprints of Sweeney Todd and various riffs on the Ripper legend. Based on Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, this belated adaptation sensibly ditches the reference to a star of the music hall whose name recognition value isn’t what it was in the late Victorian East End.

Uncovering the identity of the eponymous golem is the hospital pass handed by his superior to Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy). The so-called golem, a killer so grim he is popularly assumed to be some sort of Talmudic phantasm, has been carving up randomly selected victims with horrifying thoroughness. At one crime scene a taunting message is scrawled on the wall in blood. Among the suspects are various scholars at the British Library including, randomly, Karl Marx and George Gissing. But Kildare’s more pressing concern is to solve the apparently unconnected death of John Cree (Sam Reid), who has been poisoned in his bed. The maid drops the wife in it and Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) is soon in prison with the mob baying for her to swing. Kildare alone is convinced of her innocence.Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth in The Limehouse GolemThe accused is a demure little thing who, long before her husband’s death, was already in mourning for the termination of her career as an actress. A series of flashbacks establish that Lizzie has risen to gentility from the poorest circumstances. Her mother turned a blind eye to the molestations of randy old pervs. Orphaned, she drifts towards the local music hall, a place of magical enchantment staffed by dwarves and trapeze artistes, presided over by the celebrated cross-dressing Dan Leno (Douglas Booth, pictured above with Olivia Cooke) and his managerial sidekick known as Uncle (Eddie Marsan in a bald wig).

Lizzie, at this point still a glottal-stopping Cockney sparrow, seizes her chance to become an entertainer by wowing the audience with a popular ditty, and a star is born. She is soon being courted by Cree, a stalker fan/aspiring playwright who eventually persuades her to tie the knot, only to insist she give up the stage. Men are besotted with Lizzie, music hall audiences adore her, and old stage lags think the world of her, while Kildare believes passionately in her innocence. She has to embody virtue, frigidity, pizzazz, ambition, and a little something extra, which is a lot to ask of any actress and it’s no criticism that it feels just beyond the reach of Olivia Cooke.Maria Valverde in The Limehouse GolemIt’s curious to witness Bill Nighy play someone so intensely buttoned up (Kildare’s rumoured homosexuality goes for nothing). The role was originally destined for the late Alan Rickman, and it’s possible to imagine what he might have done with it. Nighy turns in a gimlet-eyed tribute performance which is shorn of all his trademark tics and tricks and doesn’t quite compute. As Leno, Booth channels his inner Russell Brand without conveying the hypnotic appeal that, you assume, was his signature. Daniel Mays plays a PC Plod turn he could do in his sleep. There’s a nice turn from María Valverde (pictured above) as a smouldering other woman.

London’s underbelly is imagined by an outsider in the form of American director Juan Carlos Medina. There’s a slight school-of-Guy-Ritchie buzz to the chopping edits. The art direction, particularly pleasing in the theatre scenes, leaves little to the imagination at the various Gothic murder scenes. Though the pieces of The Limehouse Golem don’t quite fit together, Jane Goldman’s proto-feminist script saves the best with a splendidly clever twist that rewards your patience.

@JasperRees

Overleaf: watch the trailer for The Limehouse Golem

Lizzie Cree has to embody virtue, frigidity, pizzazz, ambition, and a little something extra, which is a lot to ask of any actress

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Average: 3 (1 vote)

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