Stars: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth
Released: 1st September 2017 (UK)
In Victorian London; the streets are haunted by the gruesome murders of the “Limehouse Golem”. Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) is assigned the case but soon realizes he has been set up to fail to protect the promising career of Scotland Yard’s golden detective from the fury of the public. Kildare quickly establishes four suspects: performer Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), the late playwright John Cree, George Gissing and none other than Karl Marx. The case brings him to the trial of Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke), accused of poisoning her husband. The inspector is touched by the testimony of the orphan girl turned aspiring actress turned unhappy but devoted wife that the public is so quick to tarnish. Convinced both cases are connected he promises to solve both and save Lizzie from a dreadful ending.
Adapted from Peter Ackroyd’s acclaimed novel, Juan Carlos Medina delivers your classic Victorian murder mystery. It’s morbid. Dismantled bodies and bloody messages occupy the screen right from the start. And yet it is beautiful. Every night on stage, lead artist Dan Leno dazzles us by mimicking the advancement of the investigation. Every night it is another mask, another costume, making it sometimes tricky to see what’s real and what’s for show. But just as we were ready to expect another obvious “Ripper” story, comes a deliciously twisted ending.
Perhaps not as accustomed to murder mysteries, the ending was unexpected. The lack of attention given to all other suspects may have been a clue that the murder was hidden somewhere else but the orphan turned unhappy wife did not cross my mind. Poisoning her frustrated and ungrateful husband, yes, but cold bloody murders of children, maybe not. “Even madness has its own logic” but nothing, from the start, seems to lead to Lizzie as the golem.
Or maybe there was? When Lizzie, held in prison, admits to inspector Kildare, “I wanted to be a serious actress you know but you are not given a second chance”, could it be that her only way out was to create a chance for herself? A chance to succeed on her own?
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Once Kildare asks for Lizzie’s handwritten confession, everything unravels strategically fast to a most powerful ending. Even if the inspector chooses not to share her dreadful confession, to stop a murderer from personal satisfaction, it is too late. Lizzie’s story will be performed, bringing her unique and greatest act back from the dead.
The film is filled with interesting characters but who, unfortunately, are never given the chance to rise above the story. Bill Nighy gives a good performance as the unnoticed but caring detective on his very first murder case. Rumors of his homosexuality are glimpsed at but never fully developed neither is his strong affection for Lizzie. It is hard to feel much else than pity for the poor detective. Kildare starts the film scared and doubtful and finishes it, well, just as miserable. Douglas Booth as Dan leno delivers a touching character. Leno seduces with his costumes and performances, straight from “Cabaret”. He gives the film life. But as the final scene clearly suggests, he is nothing more than a good performer, mind you that the name Dan Leno does appear in the book’s title! Even the creepy sexually submissive “Uncle” is not given more than a couple of minutes. Is it perhaps that we know Lizzie would have made a perfect dominatrix in another life?
The film is not as scary as some horror aficionados would have wanted it to be. Chills are mostly driven from the bloody murder scenes and the many Golum voiceovers. That is, up until the end in which Olivia Cook’s performance as the murderous aspiring actress is definitely worth the wait. Her use of Leno’s catch phrase “Here we are again” as she is about to murder the Radcliff children is spine chilling.
Apart from minor plot holes and secondary characters that deserved more attention, Limehouse Golem does not pretend to be anything else than advertised, an entertaining murder mystery with a stellar cast and a much-awaited twisted ending!