Friday, 08 September 2017

The Limehouse Golem

Ripper-esque Victorian London horror shocker gives a twist to a rather stale genre

Written by Jason Solomons

Everyone loves a bit of London fog and the smoke machine guys must have racked up the overtime in this pea-souper of a pre-Ripper Victorian horror story, set in the ‘cor blimey’ East End. Consider yourself well in. Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176

Bill Nighy is the dandyish police inspector Kildare (‘not the marrying kind,’ suggests one Peeler) determined to reveal the identity of the so-called Limehouse Golem who’s been murdering women and gouging out their eyes ‘lest my image be imprinted on them’. The killer also leaves notes in a book in the British Library, which is handy.

It does mean the list of suspects is rather eclectic, taking in philosopher Karl Marx, writer George Gissing and music hall’s star attraction Dan Leno. ‘All part of London’s rich tapestry,’ remarks someone, ‘and sometimes the threads get crossed’.

At the centre of it all is a smashing little turn from actress Olivia Cooke, who plays a former music hall actress, Lizzie, now in an unhappy marriage to a failed playwright called Cree. Everyone falls for Lizzie and her saucy smile, although she’s had a tough life as an orphan down on the docks, so she has, what with all the oompah-pah going on.

Dan Leno (played by Douglas Booth like a blend of Marc Bolan and Russell Brand, though without the charisma) takes her under his wing and the audience take her to their hearts. Cooke is greot roat to watch, her smile lights up the gothic gloom and she can clown around like Giulietta Masina in La Strada.

But, as I say, all is nsy in Whitechapel, no matter how many Chinese opium dens one visits. These are grisly times and the public wants blood in their fiction and on the stage, something the serial killings of the Golem provide them with. A newspaper is ‘cheaper than a ticket to a shocker’, as Daniel Mays’ chirpy sergeant notes.

Based on Peter Ackroyd’s novel, this is a pleasant surprise of a film, elegantly scripted by Jane Goldman and bursting with nice details you can just about pick up amid the fog effects and shadowy interiors of Juan Carlos Medina’s direction (I know – he does not sound very cockney, but I suppose everyone is hanging out in Shoreditch these days).

Even Kildare begins to fall for Lizzie’s wiles, and when the bony fingers of suspicion begins to point at her, he’ll do anything (anything? Yes, anything) to save her as the film twists and turns its way to the scaffold. What emerges from the cobbles and grubby-cheeked squalor is actually a fresh twist on the old clichés – and any film in which actor Eddie Marsan plays ‘keeper of the buns’ is all right, guv’nor, with me.

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