The Limehouse Golem

A rich, layered, horror-inflected confection – one that is far more worthy of your time than the relatively lukewarm reviews that it received on release would have you believe. 

Bill Nighy is really good as the troubled Scotland Yard inspector called upon to be the fall guy in an investigation into a series of Jack the Ripper-style killings. The case is expected to go precisely nowhere, but he’s determined to get in there and try to get the job done anyway. Never once does he do the rote Bill Nighy performance. There’s no beanpole floundering or affable, wispy floppiness. This is stoic, resolute, no bullshit Bill.

Olivia Cooke is, apparently, amazing in everything. This is a woman who can act. Douglas Booth – apparently so dull and ineffectual to me before – is an absolute revelation as a music hall star. Even Daniel Mays is welcome in this cast. Maybe getting great performances out of everyone is a skill of director Juan Carlos Medina? Regardless, on the evidence of The Limehouse Golem (only his second feature film) alone he should be in higher demand than he is.

Digging deeper

What’s particularly satisfying about the film is that it stands up to further dissection and analysis. On the surface it’s very stylish, and the erratic chronology and almost Rashomon-style playing with perspectives certainly gives The Limehouse Golem a facade of cleverness. It’s definitely an entertaining ride being pulled in one direction and then another, trying to second guess what’s coming next.

But dig around below the surface in the themes it explores, and it has a lot to say about the female experience, as well society’s role in the making of its own misery through wilful blindness, misogyny, selfishness and scandalising. The focus on the cultural lifeblood of the music hall also feeds directly into the story itself – from the ground up – it’s not just some visually-fertile-but-clichéd thematic shorthand. Even the golem metaphor, though open to greater interpretation, is far more intrinsic to the story than just a cool-sounding name.

That’s the film in a nutshell – not just a bunch of stuff you’ve seen before in every other dark Victorian London-set mystery tale. You do get that, but you get a bit more as well.

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