Director: Juan Carlos Medina
Cast: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth
Watch The Limehouse Golem online in the UK: iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV Store / Virgin Movies / eir Vision Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“Let us begin at the end,” says Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) with an enticing charm, at the start of The Limehouse Golem. It’s the kind of remark that puts you immediately on guard for a twisting, turning film that is looking to pull the rug out from under you, but Juan Carlos Medina’s thriller is a deliciously old-fashioned horror, one that’s more about the very art of putting on a show itself.
Dan Leno sweeps us into the East End of London in the late 1800s, a time when the capital is awash with fear from a string of murders – killings so foul that the myth goes that only a creature, a Golem, could have executed them. It’s an age of gaslights, foggy alleys and foul-stenching morgues, but also of the garish delights of the music halls, and the motley camaraderie of those who tread the boards. Sent into this maelstrom of macabre mortality is Detective Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy), a face to show the public at a time when the police secretly have no idea how to catch their serial slasher.
Nighy is on impeccable form as the kind-hearted veteran copper. He wears a hat, waistcoat and concerned expression, as he stalks through streets, libraries and dressing rooms, like he really has been doing it for years. There’s a sincere heart to the tough exterior that in other hands would seem cheesy, but is delivered with just enough conviction, and just enough of a light touch, to slip right into the Hammer-steeped backdrop.
He’s balanced by the superb Daniel Mays as the grounded Police Constable Flood, who respects and insults his boss in equal measure, and Sam Reid’s intriguing John Cree, not to mention Booth’s wonderfully hammy showman. The real star, though, is Olivia Cooke as Elizabeth, a young writer who is accused of killing her husband. As Kildare finds himself drawn into proving her innocence, she is drawn into Leno’s world of theatre, and unleashes a crowd-pleasing flare for the dramatic that simultaneously reinforces and undermines her composed performance on the stand in court. Indeed, this is a film of artifice and reality, where Leno and Elizabeth both don costumes regularly, where deaths on stage can become fatal behind-the-scenes. Throughout, the killer’s journal is read out by a series of cast members, each one launching a re-enactment of the Golem’s murders that heightens the creepy, chameleonic nature of an unknown, unseen legend.
That time-warping thread makes for a gripping, unsettling conceit, which is delivered with just the right balance of historical detail and genre camp. Medina’s handling of tone is a perfect match for this blood-soaked material, which Jane Goldman adapts from Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 novel with a confident taste for the traditional. Sometimes, you don’t want a film that pulls the rug out from under you; sometimes, you just want to enjoy a comfortingly familiar carpet.