The Limehouse Golem, 15th September 2017
Now I love a well told Victorian Gothic melodrama and by and large this is what you get here. It is based on the novel, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, by the prolific (if occasionally wayward) author, Peter Ackroyd, though the screenplay by Jane Goldman has a few nips and tucks. It has taken a fair few years for the book (written in 1994) to find its way to the big screen, which is surprising given its obvious cinematic feel and structure.
The laconic Bill Nighy plays Kildare from the Yard who is, we are given to understand, a brilliant detective but whose career has been stymied by his sexuality. The whole world seems to be on his shoulders. He is ably assisted by Daniel Mays as reliable sidekick, George Flood. A gruesome case comes their way, (which superiors want nothing to do with), which is a copycat of the Ratcliffe Highway murders, from forty odd years earlier, and which formed the inspiration for a novel by Thomas de Quincey. Some-one is using the copy of this book in the British Library reading room to scribble macabre details of the murder. Suspicion falls first on the enigmatic playwright John Cree (played by Sam Reid who is currently treading the boards in Girl From the North Country at the Old Vic) as one of the occupants of the reading room at the time of the scrawling. But Cree is dead, and his wife Elizabeth (the elfin Olivia Cooke) stands accused of poisoning him.
From here Kildare enters the world of the Music Hall where our Lizzie has become a big star and where Cree wooed her. A number of larger than life characters, some of whom meet with a grisly end, are paraded, as we delve deeper into the world of deception, artifice and ambiguous sexuality. A pretty clumsy metaphor but it works. And just for good measure we get to meet novelist George Gissing, the mighty Karl Marx and a languid Dan Leno (the excellent Douglas Booth – on this performance he should be snaffled up for a lead on the stage), also a darling of the music hall, and Lizzie’s mentor, all of whom were with Cree in the reading room.
Now I will be honest you are probably going to work out whodunnit way before Kildare, given the discernible feminist sub-text, but no matter. This is a visual feast (with Yorkshire doubling up handsomely for the East End augmented by technology) which, with told largely through flashbacks, has enough momentum to engage and performances (notably Eddie Marsan as Uncle alongside Ms Cooke, Mr Booth and Mr Nighy) that get under the skin of the characters. I can see that if you are expecting a complex, twisting plot you might get frustrated at the nocturnal atmospherics and the exploration of theatricality, but for me, (particularly the beautifully shot Music Hall scenes), this is what makes the film interesting Hats off to cinematographer Simon Dennis as well as director Juan Carlos Medina.
PS. If this does float your boat the book is well worth a read as are Mr Ackroyd’s musings on this great city (London of course!) though I am particularly partial to Hawksmoor and Chatterton. More peripherally if you have never read Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter, put it in your suitcase now for the next holiday. It is an amazing novel full of layers and with a bravura structure. If you like that Wise Children is even better.