The Limehouse Golem (2016)
In Victorian London, a serial killer dubbed The Limehouse Golem by the press, leaves a trail of victims in his wake. The seemingly random murders span across the social with the only clue being a series of cryptic messages written in the blood of his victims. With few leads and increasing public pressure, Scotland Yard assigns the case to Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy), a seasoned detective who has a sneaking suspicion that he's being set up to fail. Kildare career has stalled due to rumours that “he’s not the marrying type. Investigations eventually yield a list of four potential suspects. The music hall actor Dan Leno, the author George Gissing and revolutionary Socialist Karl Marx. However, Kildare finds that the fourth, John Cree, is already dead; poisoned by his wife Elizabeth (Olivia Cooke) who awaits trial for murder. Is the key to the Golem’s identity to be found through further investigation of his murders, or by solving the truth of the Cree case?
“Let us begin, my friends, at the end,” declares the music hall actor Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) as the curtain draws back upon both the theatre stage and the beginning of the story. What follows is a period whodunit, told in flashback and set against the backdrop of a dualistic Victorian world. The seat of empire harbours a dark underbelly of vice, depravity and murder. The Limehouse Golem explores the significance of the tabloid press and the role of the music hall in shaping and reflecting popular opinion. This is an age voyeurism and puritanical judgement. There are themes of how the disenfranchised yearn to leave a mark on the world as an act of defiance against their depressing and oppressed lives. The story also paints a picture of an incredibly harsh and unjust society towards women, homosexuals and children.
Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, The Woman in Black) adapts Peter Ackroyd’s book well providing a screenplay that affords the ensemble cast a lot of scope to interpret their respective roles. Performances are universally good but you can seldom go wrong with the likes of such actors as Eddie Marsan and Daniel Mays. Director Juan Carlos Medina works within a handsome production design, vividly lit and photographed by Simon Dennis. There is more than a hint of Lamberto Bava in the looks and feel of the dark, foggy streets of London. The stylised aesthetic creates a suitable mood for the unfolding tale. Median also uses an interesting plot device in which Inspector Kildare dictates to each suspect what they should write. As each does so, we then see the previous murder from their perspective.
As a whodunit, The Limehouse Golem is a little obvious to the attentive viewer and it doesn’t go out of its way to obscure who the real murderer is. However, it can be argued that this is a movie about the journey to the truth and what impact the final revelation has upon the central characters. It is not so much the “who” that is the major foundation of the plot but “why”. If one looks beyond the circumstances of the “killer”, you find that the story is effectively putting an entire era with its associated socioeconomic and historical baggage on trial. The denouement is poignant with multiple parties having to deal with the fallout of the solved cased. Viewers are left with much to reflect upon as the credits roll, which in my mind is always a sign of quality cinema.