The Limehouse Golem is a film based on the book Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd, which I won’t claim to have read so I am judging this film purely on the film I got. If everyone see an adaptation review of it, hopefully someone will be a patron for the Dom like I am and they will make a lost in adaptation episode on it, but it won’t be me because I have already used up my first request and I won’t get another one until he has done that episode.
The screenplay is written by Jane Goldman a co-writer on Kick Ass and the previously reviewed Kingsman the Secret Service but she has also written screenplays for two of the X Men films, The Woman and The Woman in Black. Now I wouldn’t get too excited on that basis though, even those are both amazing films, some of her screenplays are not quite up to standard, mainly Miss Peregrine, which in all fairness was an ok film, anyone who read my review of that will remember, but she also wrote the screenplay for Stardust, which frankly is her worst screenplay to date, but again, it’s not a terrible film. So, we should be feeling somewhat optimistic that there is such a good writer behind the project, honestly, despite those two little niggles, I will go and see anything she writes. The director is Juan Carlos Medina, he has not directed many films prior to this, only directed a couple of shorts and his last feature film Paint?, which is not a film I have actually seen. The only thing to note from that though is he actually wrote the screenplay with this one, so this is the first time he is working with someone else’s screenplay. I mean apart from the fantastic all star British cast, I also was very excited that this would be a ‘Jack The Ripper’ style story which is a subject that kind of fascinates me, but would also make some very interesting ideas. Let’s see how it turned out.
As per usual there will not be any spoilers in this review. If you have actually seen the film and you want me to talk about the spoilers for this film, then let me know in the comments section and I will force Ren to go into the cinema to see it and we will do a Vlog on it.
The plot of Limehouse Golem revolves around ‘let’s begin at the end’. It kind of does in a sense. The film involves investigator for Scotland Yard, John Kildare. Played by Bill Nighy investigating a series of brutal murders in the Limehouse district of London, committed by a killer simply known as The Golem. His investigation leads him to believe that it is somehow connected with the life of Lizzie Cree, played by Olivia Cooke who has just been arrested and put on trial for the murder of her husband John, played by Sam Reid. John Kildare does his investigation, but it is hard because all he has to go on is the handwriting of the killer and the identity of the killer may hold salvation to Lizzie’s freedom and life.
The best way to look at The Limehouse Golem is to think of it as a Jack the Ripper style story without using Jack the Ripper and mixing it in with a real life famous figure of the age, in this case Dan Leno who is played by Douglas Booth. In that sense it is very similar to a film like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, which actually was another reason I was looking forward to going into it because Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is actually a guilty pleasure of mine, but as I mentioned in previous reviews, the biggest problem of the film was that it took itself a little too seriously and didn’t have enough fun with it’s premise. The Limehouse Golem goes in completely the opposite direction, it doesn’t at all intend in any way to be a fun film, despite the fact it is mixing in not only Dan Leno, but other real life figures of the Victorian age including Carl Marx for example. In case you are unaware, Dan Leno was a famous comic of the Victorian era and was basically one of the first highly popular drag artists in a sense. The best way to look at it is say, think of him of a mix of Victorian Paul O’Grady and Noel Fielding, which is definitely the angle they are going for with this film portraying the man. It’s not like many of these films that attempt to add a historical figure into the mix, where he pushed to the background. Leno is very much pushed very much to the foreground especially for large portions of the film, which is actually rather baffling considering his name has been taken out.
Now, I actually felt, rather fortunate that the title had been changed from the novel considering that Dan Leno is not the protagonist, at least in the film’s case. However, the film has been heavily marketed as a murder mystery around Bill Nighy’s character John Kildare, however, I don’t think he is the main character and I think people going in with that expectation might be a bit disappointed. It’s actually more of a character piece for Lizzie as we go back through her life, seeing her slowly work her way through the ranks to become one of London’s great entertainers. I am glad I have put a focus on that because those are the best parts of the film. It’s a very interesting look into the placement of women in the time period, expectations, people’s sense of place in the world, it actually kind of interesting. The problem is, they are a bit too interesting, and as a result, in early portions of the film they actually kind of take away from the early portion of the murder mystery since it seems rather obvious who the murderer is. In fact, the early portions of finding Golem’s identity lead to us being tossed several red herrings. Now, granted, there have been several scenes featuring several characters as the killer and I believe these scenes have been put in place so that when this film comes out on DVD and the scenes are pushed all over YouTube it will mean that people who haven’t seen the film will get the wrong idea over who the killer is if they pick a scene at random. The problem is, when we see the film as a full whole, none of these people seem very convincing as killers since, well, there is no real motive for these kills, even under serial killer logic.
Ripperologists expecting this to be a clone for Clone Jack the Ripper style killer will be rather disappointed as well because this is not a mimmickry for Jack the Ripper, for example, the major reasons being that the Golem kills both men and women and Jack the Ripper only killed women, though let’s just say there are some macabre mutilations in this film that I am really going to struggle to get out of my head. Put it this way, this film has an R rating for a reason.
The other factor of Lizzie’s life being such a focus of the film is that she really becomes the main character despite the fact that the film’s advertising suggested that Bill Nighy’s character is the lead and people who have taken a skimmed look at the book’s title will believe that Douglas Booth’s part as Dan Leno is the main lead of the film. As a result I think people will come in rather upset with the final product in a sense.
The Golem mystery fortunately pick up towards the second half of the film and it becomes more evident in the sense of several elements being added including some quite well executed red herrings, and even add a ticking clock element, which I won’t dare spoil. However, there is not much investigation in this one, it’s just literally, Kildare approaches a person, have them write something, it’s obvious they are not the Golem, he leaves and we never see that character again! It’s a bit, lather, rinse repeat, it’s basically the entire thing and when we finally get the reveal of the Golem mystery, it actually was quite well done, they add an interesting idea to it, although it’s not amazingly executed and more to the point, I saw it coming, this is not a twist that shocked me. Now granted, I see a lot of films, so I am used to narrative structures, especially in stories like this, but the reveal simply didn’t work since I could tell what was a red herring and by the end it feels disappointing.
The side characters are pretty good, I actually kind of enjoyed most of them for the most part, especially the people in Dan Leno’s company. So, what is the problem. Well, there are a few plot points that don’t really go anywhere, mainly around Kildare’s character, he doesn’t get much development and we don’t learn that much about him, for example, there is a sub-plot about him being suspected of being gay, but it doesn’t go anywhere, they literally bring it up for one scene and it is never mentioned again! It might as well have been taken out of the film for all the good it did! It also assumes that you are much more familiar with Dan Leno than I suspect the average audience member would be considering that there is not a lot of explanation about his life and work in this film, although early portions of the film do show a lot of his performance style. A slight development in those areas would have really pushed the film over the edge for me.
As for the cast, it’s a brilliant all-star cast. Olivia Cooke delivers a brilliant performance as well as Douglas Booth who is amazingly theatrical in his performance. Bill Nighy is giving one of his better performances in recent memory since he is finally given a leading role for him to sink his teeth into, though early portions of the film don’t do him that much justice as he seems a man unclear of direction, though that may have been what Bill Nighy was going for considering what we know of the character at that point. Sam Reid does well in his role and I did once again like actors Daniel Mays and Eddie Marsden who give terrific performances once again and I will say, once again, are highly underrated actors.
As for the design and cinematography, well, it’s just brilliant. Seriously, the entire presentation of the film is just fantastic. They do a brilliant job depicting Victorian London which does well for the gothic nature of the story. The film’s score is also fantastic as well as the cinematography. The costume design is also brilliant as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if this film receives a few Oscar Nominations on a technical category in next year’s ceremony. The major problem with The Limehouse Golem’s presentation is that well, frankly I think they use tinted lenses way too much. I know what they are going for when they do it but I felt it took away more from a lot of those scenes. That being said though, I liked the homages to early cinema that it gave off.
The Limehouse Golem is a film that if it had ironed out a few of its edges could have been a fantastic film. I am not going to say this is a bad film, far from it, I kind of enjoyed myself watching it for the most part and I would easily recommend it. Especially for the brilliant performances of Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth. The problem is that the solution to the mystery was pretty obvious to me, although I do believe that many people won’t get the twist and it will be a decent surprise and shock for them, so that more of a personal issue on my own volition that it is an actual criticism I have against the film. This is worth at least one watch, though I don’t think the film warrants repeat viewings.
No mini reviews this week as I couldn’t get to a cinema once again due to the fact that I was doing extra work at Axia to aid our administration department.
Join me next time, which, unfortunately will be a few week from now because I am going on holiday again.
Come back in a few weeks where I will be reviewing the latest adaptation of a Stephen King novel going to screen “It”.
Thanks a lot for reading my review. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it and man this is another film that you just wish was slightly better!
Calvin – Nerd Consultant