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Review: Enthralling The Limehouse Golem is filled with the unexpected

PUBLISHED: 09:40 01 September 2017

Bill Nighy as Inspector John Kildare and Olivia Cooke as Elizabeth Cree in The Limehouse Golem. Photo: Lionsgate Films/Nicola Dove

Bill Nighy as Inspector John Kildare and Olivia Cooke as Elizabeth Cree in The Limehouse Golem. Photo: Lionsgate Films/Nicola Dove

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Juan Carlos Medina’s macabre murder mystery, based on Peter Ackroyd’s novel, set on the fog-choked streets of Victorian London, is smart and all you could hope for.

Bill Nighy as Inspector John Kildare and Daniel Mays as George Flood in The Limehouse Golem. Photo: Lionsgate Films/Nicola Dove Bill Nighy as Inspector John Kildare and Daniel Mays as George Flood in The Limehouse Golem. Photo: Lionsgate Films/Nicola Dove

The Limehouse Golem (15)

****

There have been some murders. Juicy ones. In olde London town. Again.

We don’t need another serial killer film, or another serial killer film examining why we are fascinated by serial killers, or even another period piece serial killer film examining why we are fascinated by serial killers. But if we must have one, this adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s novel Dan Leno And The Limehouse Golem is all you could hope for, being enthralling and ambitious and filled with the unexpected.

Ackroyd imagines that before Jack the Ripper, the Limehouse Golem terrified the streets of the Victorian East End. His murders were brutal and random, striking at prostitutes and whole families. In these early days serial killers didn’t know that they were supposed to stick to a pattern.

Luckily Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is on the case, a dogged softly spoken bloodhound who could’ve been the original inspiration for the nickname Plod.

He is determined but may not be on the right scent, becoming fixated with the case of a woman (Olivia Cooke) arrested on suspicion of murdering her husband.

Olivia Cooke as Elizabeth Cree and Douglas Booth as Dan Leno in The Limehouse Golem. Photo: Lionsgate Films/Nicola Dove Olivia Cooke as Elizabeth Cree and Douglas Booth as Dan Leno in The Limehouse Golem. Photo: Lionsgate Films/Nicola Dove

The husband is one of the main Golem suspects, along with Karl Marx, author George Gissing and the most popular music hall entertainer of the day, Dan Leno.

Jane Goldman’s really smart script employs a complex scheme involving a variety of different time frames, flashbacks and unreliable narrations, and does it so smoothly, even matter of factly, that you barely notice it. Only right at the end does it perhaps overstretch. Possibly by then you are so immersed in its world that the plot mechanics are of secondary importance.

The Victorian East End is an over-familiar layer of hell, but Medina makes it seem like a place people actually lived in.

Nighy is a little predictable in the lead but there is some really attention grabbing work by the lesser known names. Olivia Cooke is tremendous as the former music hall star who has worked her way up from nothing.

Douglas Booth is even better, playing cross dressing music hall legend Dan Leno as a cross between Nosferatu and Russell Brand, in Danny La Rue’s wardrobe.

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