Based on the Peter Ackroyd novel, The Limehouse Golem has you second guessing yourself from the start. With numerous potential suspects for a string of gruesome murders, it is almost impossible to keep track on who fits the persona of the infamous Golem perfectly.
The film follows Detective John Kildare (Bill Nighy) as he is unexpectedly thrust onto the case of the infamous murderer The Limehouse Golem. With numerous suspects in hand, it is becoming increasingly impossible to figure out who it truly is. Especially as one of the prime suspects for the case, is the recently deceased playwright John Cree (Sam Reid). This leads Kildare on a secondary task of saving Cree’s wife Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) –a previously famous comedienne and actor of Limehouse- who is on trial for John’s murder, but whom Kildare believes is innocent. A true murder mystery with lots of twists and turns, factor in the creepy Victorian setting and it’s a recipe for success as far a chilling thrillers go.
Juan Carlos Medina’s The Limehouse Golem is a sight to behold. It is perfectly reminiscent of the Victorian era and full of twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of the film’s plot. It is tremendously confusing – with the numerous suspects all playing a scene in which they are the killer- but played out in such a way that if you pay attention you can guess who the killer really is before the films finale. There is one instance of this where I almost slapped Detective Kildare through the screen for missing the wrong clue. After reading a page from what I can only describe as the Golem’s makeshift diary, two important clues are discovered in that scene – one a line recounted earlier by a character in the film and the other about the recording of a purchase of cufflinks from a store- and Kildare, after a moment of revelation … focuses on the wrong one!
If there was ever weight to the idea of police incompetence in the 1800s, then this scene attests to it. Likewise the movement of the body from the murder scene, allowing the press onto the scene itself, and letting them trod through the blood on the floor, only add to this further. Trust me I could go on about the numerous times the police screw up in this film. Even Officer George Flood (Daniel Mays) recognises how useless they are by stating that, like everything else, the dress they needed for evidence was improperly archived. It is honestly a miracle that any crimes were solved in this century at all.
Evidently, these blatant screw ups are to add to the films theme of police incompetence in doing what is necessary to save face and get cases over fast rather than lingering on them and potentially looking stupid. For example, Kildare is thrust onto the case without even a warning simply to make him the scapegoat for what the police consider an unsolvable case. Meanwhile their golden boy top detective has no involvement from then on. He certainly doesn’t make it any easier for Kildare by withholding evidence from him either.
Medina’s masterpiece really immerses the audience into the murky Victorian setting. This is only made more vivid when famous real-life figures of the time are enveloped into the story line. These include: infamous socialist Karl Marx (Henry Goodman), novelist George Gissing (Morgan Watkins) and most importantly actor and comedian Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) – all of which were considered suspects at some point throughout the film’s course.
But what really adds to the engaging setting is the murders themselves. What is meant by this is, they are all too familiar. The Limehouse Golem is clearly styled as a fictional predecessor to the very real murderer known as Jack the Ripper. For those few who are unaware, The Ripper plagued the streets of Whitechapel (much like Limehouse in the Victorian era, a downtrodden district of East London) throughout late 1880s, having committed at least five known murders before mysteriously disappearing. Although the victims themselves differ from the Ripper’s -largely because they include men as well as women-, the state they are left in is clearly reminiscent of the Ripper. Likewise the writing on the wall at one of the murder scenes is a direct link to the Goulston Street Graffito.
But more to the point, other than the modus operandi and setting, the attitude of the public is very reminiscent of the murders too. The Limehouse Golem directly calls out the public for seeing the murders as entertainment, much like they did with the Ripper’s victims too. To them, the murders and also Elizabeth’s trial, is a show. They have no mercy or sympathy they only wish to see a gruesome end, and the writing on the murder scene’s wall alludes to this. The dark humour of this age is again seen through Leno’s shows, where his character of a woman talking about her husband who beats her is met with hysterical laughter. To the Golem, his work is a performance for this audience (a slight clue to the murderer’s identity if anyone wishing to watch). In a sense it is the public’s reaction that actually spurs the Golem on.
The Limehouse Golem perfectly encapsulated the wider setting of the Victorian era too. The roles of men and women are brilliantly explored and even turned on their head in many instances. There is the overarching theme of protecting innocence throughout the film- something that actually comes in particularly handy for the killer and even aids in their work. We see this theme initially with Lizzie’s mother (Keeley Forsyth) ‘punishing’ her when she is molested as a child. Yet, it is this instance that is used to throw out Lizzie’s testimony as her poor upbringing and ‘experiences’ lead to disgust by the hearing audience, despite none of these circumstances being within Lizzie’s control. Up until this point men of respectable standing, such as John Cree, have gone out of their way to save Lizzie’s innocence, especially when she is confronted with situations that could endanger it. Yet, the jury at this hearing are all men, and are all well established too, yet they cringe and cry out in disgust when these experiences are spoken aloud. There is a double standard to innocence in this film. A maiden is considerable salvageable even if she has been wrongfully defiled, but once she is married and under scrutiny these instances lead to her character being questioned.
The Limehouse Golem is perfectly scripted and an exciting watch that had me gripped from start to finish. I would recommend to anyone over the age of 15 (the certificate of this film) as it is particularly gruesome and graphic at points, thus anyone who faints at a paper cut may wish to stay away. I will recommend paying close attention to clues and dialogue, as if you’re lucky enough like me you will figure out who the killer actually is long before Kildare even does.
As I have waffled on a lot about the historical context of the film, I will keep it short in saying that Nighy, Cooke and Booth do a stand up job of portraying their respective characters, particularly Cooke who -not to give much away- but can switch from one emotion to another withing the drop of a hat, and Booth who perfectly captures the enigmatic persona of Leno!
If there is one point to improvement, it is explaining the significance of the name the Golem. It is touched upon in the film through the murder of the Jew (where it just so happened the man was reading a book about the mythical creature and the killer saw inspiration). But it is not really clear why these killings have any significance to a creature made of clay that does the bidding of its master. I imagine this concept is probably explored more within the novel the film was based upon. I haven’t read Ackroyd’s book myself, but after watching this masterpiece, I am sure to now!