Tuesday 5 September 2017

The Limehouse Golem

To The Victorian, The Spoils

The Limehouse Golem
2016/17 UK Directed by Juan Carlos Medina
UK cinema release print.

The Limehouse Golem is another one of those movies where I looked at the trailer and thought... "Yeah, not quite grabbing me. Not sure about this." However, I then saw that the film was getting some good feeback on Twitter so I thought I’d give it a go after all and... yeah... I quite liked this one. It’s based on a novel by Peter Akroyd called Dan Leno And The Limehouse Golem. The usual caveats apply here as I’ve not read the novel and so can’t be a good judge of how sound an adaptation it is. I can judge it as a movie though so... here goes.     

Dan Leno was a famous music hall performer and the film, set in the 1890s, tells of a ‘Jack The Ripper-like’ murderer, nicknamed The Golem by the press and it mixes real life characters and events in a fictional story. It follows the path of Inspector John Kildare, played by Bill Nighy, who has been assigned to the monstrous ‘Golem’ murders because his superior steps down to scapegoat Kildare since it’s a case which is very much in the press and he doesn’t want to be seen to be failing the investigation (Kildare was originally earmarked for Alan Rickman before he passed on). So Kildare and his new assistant, Constable George Flood, played by the always excellent Daniel Mays, get to work investigating this series of gruesome deaths, a case which soon crosses into another investigation where the other main protagonist of the film, an ex-music hall star called Lizzie Cree, played by Olivia Cooke, is held in prison accused with the murder of her husband. Her late husband is now a suspect in the Golem case and Kildare is so taken with Lizzie that he slants his investigation towards her husband in the hopes that finding out the truth of the matter will be a way to beat the hangman’s noose at the inevitable end of her trial.

Simultaneous to the investigation we are constantly, through eye witness accounts and flashbacks, privy to the path from Lizzie’s tragic childhood background to her rise in the music hall, first assisting and then writing/working with Dan Leno (played amazingly well by Douglas Booth) and the path which leads to her retirement from the stage and into a sexless marriage with her husband.

And it’s all very well done and holds the interest. Especially when each of the various witnesses at certain times throughout the movie are asked to provide a sample of handwriting to compare to a book filled with the writing of the killer. As each of the witnesses, including both Dan Leno himself and the famous Karl Marx, are dictated to by Kildare, we see each of the suspects in turn narrating and participating in one of the gruesome murders (well, not that gruesome, to be sure but perhaps a little more bloody than you might get in a non-horror movie like this one).

And it’s in these kinds of intrusions into the narrative and the way the format of the film is played with via the editing and various transitions to and from the flashbacks of Lizzie’s rise to fame and the various murders in the Golem case that the film really holds the interest, even as it tries to pull the wool over the eyes of the audience in terms of who the actual killer is, in this case.

Now, I have to admit, I thought the killer in this movie was obvious from the start and I have to wonder if it’s less easier to detect in the original written form than it is in a screen presentation. However, well done to the director for at least leading me up the garden path towards the end when a different person to the one I’d thought it was is seen to be guilty. They actually had me thinking I’d got it all wrong for a moment until a ‘not so surprising’ revelation moment brought things straight  back to the person I’d suspected all along. Which, in a way is a shame but, at the same time, I’m glad it wasn’t the person they originally said it was because that would have been a real clunky ending. That being said, I would have preferred to be surprised by the identity of the killer at the end but, alas, it just wasn’t to be.

However, because the whole film itself is in some ways framed as a theatrical production in terms of the way the narrative is injected into the story, it makes up for the obvious ending with a certain poignancy and it doesn’t seem to be short changing the audience in terms of the emotional impact on the part of the surviving characters that actually make it to the film’s finish without being slaughtered.

As well as the names I’ve already mentioned, you also have the impeccable Eddie Marsan as the ‘Uncle’ of the close knit group of actors and Sam Reid as the recently deceased husband of Lizzie Cree. All the actors in this film carry a lot of weight and it’s always a pleasure to see professionals of this magnitude sharing screen time to weave a tale as well executed as this. Henry Goodman is also pretty good in his short scenes as Karl Marx but, for some reason, I can’t find this famous character listed on the IMDB in relation to this movie and nor, it seems, is the actor who plays him (at the time of writing this article) visible at the IMDB either. So I’ve no idea what’s going on there.

Johan Söderqvist, who did the score for Let The Right One In (reviewed by me here in a much shorter review from my early days of writing this blog) does a fantastic job at both mirroring and enhancing the atmosphere in this one... it even reminded me a little of Jerry Goldsmith’s landmark score to ALIEN at some points, in terms of its orchestration on the percussion. Alas, it’s fallen prey to the usual travesty/crime against filmanity which seems to have become more common over the last few years in that the wonderful score is not available on CD at the time of writing and only available as a wretched electronic download. Why that is would be anybody’s guess but I’d much rather have the music released in a proper format than all this stupid electronic shenanigans, which I probably won’t have room to download onto my computer anyway. This silly download practice has got to stop (along with vinyl, 8-track cartridges, cylinders and 78 RPMs).

All in all, though, The Limehouse Golem is an enjoyable film for those of you who like watching Victoriana detective fiction portrayed, as it often is in British cinema, as authentically or, at the very least, atmospherically appropriate a way as possible. Not one for those members of the audience who are easily squeamish, perhaps, although it is only a 15 certificate and it certainly wouldn’t warrant an 18, to be fair. Perfect for those who like to spend their cinematic evening out in the company of a serial killer and an entertaining couple of hours at the very least, for most people. A sly wink of a recommendation from me if you don’t have anything better to go and see on your night out at the pictures.

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