Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be swept away to Victorian London? To experience the sights, the sounds, the scandals, the ever-looming gloom that seems to swallow up the city? THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM, a new film by director Juan Carlos Medina, does just that. Based on Peter Ackroyd's 1994 novel, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, the film recounts the story of the mysterious serial killer who is wreaking havoc, committing murders throughout the Limehouse District of London.
The story begins as a man, who we later come to know as Dan Leno (Douglas Booth, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) tell the audience, "Let us begin, my friends, at the end." We are suddenly transported to the home of John and Lizzie Cree, where Lizzie (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel) has just discovered the body of her dead husband, John Cree (Sam Reid, 2:22). We quickly learn that Cree’s death could be connected to the murders of the infamous Limehouse Golem, and it seems that Lizzie, who is suspected of killing her husband, may have more information than she is letting on. The Scotland Yard assigns Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy, Their Finest) to the case of Lizzie Cree and the Limehouse Golem, and as he gets to know Lizzie, she begins to share with him valuable information. She recounts for him the events that took place, as well as the people she met leading up to her husband’s death, and Inspector Kildare begins to develop a great trust in Lizzie. Not only does the inspector wish to help Lizzie and prove her innocence, he also believes she may have information that will aid him in solving the mystery of who the Limehouse Golem really is.
As the story unfolds, the audience meets a handful of eccentric characters, including some unexpected cameos from an assortment of historical figures, including Karl Marx and George Gissing. Every time Inspector Kildare assumes he is getting close to confirming a suspect as the killer, the suspect is seen committing one of the brutal murders through the eyes of the inspector. Each of these gruesome scenes portrays the suspected killer with a distorted voice that sounds positively diabolical, adding a truly spooky and unsettling element to the film. This happens multiple times over the course of the film, as each suspect is presented as the killer, until we finally learn the truth in the end.
Seeing each suspected character literally take on the role of the killer was such an effective and creative way to make the audience feel as though we were actually in Inspector Kildare’s head, working to solve the case with him. My only complaint is I would have liked to have spent even more time in the investigation process, getting to know each suspect and their possible motives a little better. This spooky Victorian twist on a “who-done-it” serial killer story was right up my alley, but I think a story like this may have found even more success in a mini-series type format. This truly is my only complaint, which is more than a suggestion rather than an outright complaint, and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this film and it surprised me in all the best ways.
The gloomy Victorian period London was perfectly encapsulated and the performances were excellent, but with a cast with Bill Nighy at the helm, we would expect nothing less. In fact, the already stellar cast originally included the late, great Alan Rickman in the role of Inspector John Kildare. Upon learning of the dire state of his illness, Rickman had no choice but to step down from his role. The film’s producer, Stephen Woolley, who had previously worked with Alan Rickman on Michael Collins, was at the time also producing Their Finest which stars Bill Nighy. Bill Nighy was given a script and after showing great interest in the character, the role of Inspector John Kildare was filled again with another great talent. THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM was dedicated to the unforgettable Alan Rickman, with a sweet message of dedication after the credits roll. I choked up the minute his name appeared, not knowing the reason behind it until doing some research after my initial viewing.
With it’s stellar performances and ominous undertones, THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM has me hoping for more films like it, as well as wanting to revisit others with similar settings such as the Hughes Brothers’ From Hell or Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM will see a limited theatrical release and will also be coming to VOD on Friday, September 8th, although I highly recommend seeking out one of the theaters showing it to experience it for the first time on the big screen.