Victorian London and a murder mystery. If it hadn’t been for Jack the Ripper and Arthur Conan Doyle, these two pieces of a narrative jigsaw would not have had fitted so perfectly together. This gives Juan Carlos Medina’s The Limehouse Golem a little boost in audience interest in this mysterious melodrama that in the end has you guessing until the very end, much like any good mystery storyline would do.
I made sure to make a mental note of the tagline for this film before seeing it. “Before the Ripper, fear has another name”. It possibly drew my attention to the Ripper in the tagline, and already, through the films clever marketing, I had created an expectation of what I wanted from this film. and while the film reached my expectations, I still had to get through the thick fog of trying to not relate this to the ripper case and because of this it does take time to settle into the story being told.
Nevertheless, The Limehouse Golem tells a great mystery with the same quality of characters, starting with Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke). This is by far one of her best performance to date (say perhaps her role in Bates Motel), her character is an aspiring actress with a present fragility about her yet at the same time making a success all by herself. The film tricks you into thinking her character is going to be one this rather than the other very well which is turn is made even greater by a performance that needed emotion when it needed it the most making her scenes more enjoyable.
Lizzie Cree is by far the most interesting character, but she also does the job of applying the tiniest bit of feminist freethinking in a time before women were treated equally and that is difficult to ignore when watching The Limehouse Golem. You get to see this play out when she is the subject of a supposed love triangle between her soon to be husband John Cree (Sam Reid) and her performing partner and mentor Dan Leno (Douglas Booth). Caught in the dilemma of evolving into a serious actress or sticking to light-hearted roles where she has already made her fame, director Juan Carlos Medina chooses these moments to develop her character.
Bill Nighy as detective inspector Kildare was also very good in a role that doesn’t have much comedic elements about it as we have seen him in previously. I recently read that his role was supposed to be fulfilled by the late Alan Rickman and thanks to some of the character’s dialogue, it’s not hard to identify this. Try closing your eyes during the characters dialogue, you can easily see Alan Rickman saying these lines.
Speaking of the script, the narrative does come around full circle as it has the layout of start and the end style of narrative. The film’s writer Jane Goldman has had a string of well written films ever since she started writing, while The Limehouse Golem may not be seen as much as the X-Men prequels it still demonstrates her abilities as a great writer.
The film presents us with the visual imagery of showing the suspects as The Golem in various hallucinatory styles sequences whilst speaking towards the audience. In doing this, the audience becomes more invested in the suspects and start to reflect on the mystery in the film furthering their satisfaction. This happens for the mystery of who The Golem is, however there is a second mystery into whether Lizzie poisoned her husband who is one of the main suspects of the Golem case. The film pushes this mystery into the audiences faces when the mystery of who the Golem is would have been more than enough. Admittedly, this case ties into the Golem case flawlessly, however, because of the amount of time the film gives to this mystery, we must play catch-up with the identity of The Golem, the film even remarks itself onto the uncertainty of what case to focus on.
There was a surprising amount of gore in The Limehouse Golem and while it can be argued that it is necessary for a Victorian London backdrop, it does boil down to making it shocking for the sake of being shocking. Because of this level of gore, it is very difficult to not draw up inspiration from Jack the Ripper, even if the film presents itself as a different type of mystery, I’d even go so far as to say that you could imagine some inspiration drawn from Arthur Conan Doyle.
The Limehouse Golem in the end gets you asking the right question like any mystery would and although it follows some mystery narrative clichés and can sometime draw attention from its primary story, thanks to the directing abilities of Juan Carlos Medina and writing skills of Jane Goodman, the film make a convincing melodrama that is eye-catching and will have people engrossed by its backdrop and characters.