Have you ever visited the London Dungeons? Or even their sister attractions in San Francisco, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, etc? If you fancy a movie set in that world of theatrical, blood-soaked Horrible Histories intrigue, then step right up, The Limehouse Golem is just the ticket. Set in pre-Ripper 1880s London (the monster known as Jack terrorised the streets from 1888-1891), the flick focuses on the titular (fictional) murderer and one poor copper’s hunt for him.
The officer in question is played by none other than Bill Nighy, whose John Kildare is tasked with heading the investigation as a kind of scapegoat due to his devious sexual orientation, which is whispered about by colleagues. Assisting him is the always welcome Daniel Mays as the kind of plucky, Cockney assistant the seasoned character actor can play in his sleep. Elsewhere, Olivia Cooke is a young woman accused of killing her husband as the film starts.
The cast is uniformly terrific, the period stylings lavish and the recreations of the murders, which see each suspect carrying them out in surprisingly gory fashion, are stylishly shot. The movie is purposely theatrical, particularly in these moments (“I could feel a murder coming on” is one piece of narration uttered in absolute earnestness). Whether you allow yourself to be swept up in the theatricality of it will depend on your predilection for this style of police procedural.
Leno, played here by a spirited and game Douglas Booth, provides an audience insert of sorts, essentially telling us the story, via a garish onstage performance. It’s a clever trick that saves the movie in its baggier, more tedious moments of standing around pointing at boards with the coppers exclaiming “HE did it!”. Sam Reid, and his fabulous voice, is good too as Cooke’s deceased husband. Elsewhere Eddie Marsan plays against type as a perv with a big ol’ tache.
The standout, naturally, the anchor of the whole thing and its only reason for being taken even a little bit seriously, is Nighy. Originally, the great Alan Rickman was cast in the role, and there are shades of his dark sadness in Nighy’s performance but even so the insanely watchable Brit makes Kildare his own, keeping us invested even when the central mystery falls a bit flat thanks to lengthy, jail-set sequences with Cooke’s prisoner.
As for the young, Bates Motel alum, she provides an interesting twist on the usual goody-goody characters with which she’s been lumbered thus far. Cooke and Nighy make for an interesting pair, even when it’s unclear just how he has so much unsupervised access to her while the accused is awaiting trial. But such is the movie’s odd charm. You either accept the bizarre plot machinations or you don’t.
The real crux of whether or not The Limehouse Golem is worth a watch will depend on just how quickly the viewer cottons on to who the real killer is. For some, it will be obvious from the outset, the fun coming from watching the onscreen characters figure it out for themselves. Others will be infuriated by just how quickly it plays its hand, and will surely find the ending unsatisfying. Go with it, however, and there’s much dark kitsch to enjoy here.
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Juan Carlos Medina
Writer(s): Jane Goldman
Stars: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Daniel Mays, Douglas Booth
Release: September 8, 2017
Studio/ Production Co: Number 9 Films
Length: 110 minutes