The Limehouse Golem Review
An entertaining and clever melodrama that breathes new life into the well-worn period drama
Usually, when there’s a film about a hunt for a Victorian serial killer, you can bet it’s about Jack the Ripper.The Limehouse Golem not only breaks that mould, but also adds a feminist twist to a period drama that’s a welcome update to the genre. Adapted from a Peter Ackroyd novel by Jane Goldman, The Limehouse Golem stars Bill Nighy as Inspector John Kildare, a dapper detective charged with sleuthing the identity of the eponymous serial killer terrorising Victorian Limehouse. Kildare has been set up to fail – this is a seemingly unsolvable case – but becomes determined to uncover the recently deceased John Cree as the Golem.Cree’s widow Elizabeth (Olivia Cooke) has been charged with his murder and her redemption depends on identifying Cree as the grisly murderer. Told largely via flashbacks to Elizabeth’s preceding life story, director Juan Carlos Medina’s film is stylish and entertaining. There are a few over-the-top moments, and a few pantomime-esque characters, but Medina’s direction and a stellar ensemble make this a refreshing, chilling and satisfying take on the Victorian period drama.
Nighy is note-perfect as Kildare – solemn, serious and characterful. His detective is stern, but has a signature sense of style and persona that never wavers throughout the film; what could have descended into campy-Victorian chic is grounded and made just the right amount of nerve-wracking by Kildare’s presence. Cooke is equally impressive, commanding the screen as the beleaguered Elizabeth who guides the narrative.
There are characters well-known to us in real life (Karl Marx and George Gissing), grisly murders, rich costumes, murky set designs and plenty of slightly silly, over-the-top additions to the plot. In other words, The Limehouse Golem bears many of the hallmarks we’ve come to know and love of period dramas. Indeed, this would arguably have made a great Sunday-teatime TV drama (although you might have to take some of the more gruesome bits out to sneak it in ahead of the watershed).
In fact, had the story been stretched over a few hour-long episodes it might have been served a little better – as entertaining as the film is, it certainly runs at quite a canter, to the point where some characters feel brash and over-exposed, and some plot threads just seem rammed in for effect. Admirable attempts are made to address quite a few serious issues regarding Victorian culture – violence, inequality and sexism to name a few – and these are balanced fairly well with the perfect amount of dark humour from Goldman’s screenplay.
There are a few over-the-top moments, and some pantomime characters, but great direction and a stellar cast make this a refreshing, chilling and satisfying Victorian drama
Medina’s direction lends the entire film a damp, murky atmosphere that perfectly evokes Victorian London, and the many twists and turns of Ackroyd’s story and Goldman’s screenplay get right under that infamous seamy underbelly and expose the shabbiness and depravity of the culture. It’s very Victorian London (as we’ve come to know it) – there’s sex and violence, ruffled costumes and stern detectives. Great performances and a delightfully creepy atmosphere make this an entertaining caper, that nonetheless falls short of dealing with all the plot points it introduces.
It’s a somewhat silly, macabre melodrama, starring Bill Nighy as a (closeted) detective who tackles an apparently unsolvable murder spree. The period drama genre has been pillaged a fair bit in recent years, but with The Limehouse Golem Medina and Goldman have managed to give it new legs. It’s silly and not exactly ground-breaking, but with twists and drama and humour and murky darkness, it’s still a bit of a ripper nonetheless (sorry).
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