Let us begin, my friends, at the end: Londoners are still baying for blood and thus the show is not over. The horrific series of murders which fill this grand stage are performances cheaper, and more thrilling, than the East-End music halls in which they’re recounted.
In this adaptation of Peter Ackryd’s novel, 1880s London is depicted as a city reeling from serial killer – christened the Limehouse Golem by Fleet Street’s papers – who roams the streets mocking Scotland Yard. To redirect the public’s growing anger and unrest over the still-free menace, and protect the reputation of their ‘golden boy’ Inspector Roberts, Scotland Yard need a scapegoat to take the case and the (seemingly inevitable) fall. In comes inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy); a man with an already tarnished reputation as the ‘non-marrying’ type. With the odds stacked against him, Kildare has both his career, and the inhabitants of Limehouse, to save.
The list of famous suspects includes George Gissing and Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) and none other than Karl Marx – known enemy of the common people. However, it is the last, least known suspect, the failed playwright John Cree, with whom the story takes a new life. Cree has been found dead, and his wife the former Little Lizzie of the musical halls (Olivia Cooke) is on trial for his murder. But Kildare sees more to this story; hoping he might save poor Lizzie from the noose whilst catching the monster.
The film is drenched with the ideas of legacy and (im)mortality, and these themes haunt the players of this grand show throughout. Even the Limehouse Golem is trying to achieve its own form of glory, believing that murder is a fine art. However there is a forced confrontation with responsibility: that those who witness and do nothing are as guilty as those who commit the abominable act.
The film is frightfully interesting and engaging, with moments of intense horror. However it is the lucid crazed moments which allow the film to stand, as the stage and reality become one. The real Limehouse Golem does not leave its audience wanting. That said, the film does lack some complexity and fails to escape the expectations and clichés of the period detective genre.
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