This weekend the eagerly-awaited Ripperesque film, The Limehouse Golem, hit the big screen. After a false start (Vue Cinemas cancelled the scheduled showing without telling anyone) I finally got to see it, and it was well worth the wait.
Based on Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd (now firmly on my TBR pile), the action opens in London, 1880, as reporter and failed playwright John Cree dies of poisoning. Reminiscent of the Florence Maybrick case (which took place 9 years later), suspicion is immediately cast on his wife, music hall star, Lizzie Cree. The day before this incident, the so-called Limehouse Golem, a brutal murderer, had claimed his latest victims, in the same location and with a similar MO as the Ratcliff Highway murders, when John Williams slaughtered linen draper Timothy Marr and his family, in 1811.
Enter Detective Inspector John Kildare, a previously overlooked police officer due to his not being ‘of the marrying kind’. Kildare (skilfully played by Bill Nighy) is instructed to investigate the latest Golem killing, despite his lack of experience, which leads him to the conclusion that he is being set up to fail. As he begins to follow the trail of the anonymous killer, he meets Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke), who is on trial for the murder of her husband.
These two plots become intrinsically linked as the late John Cree is on Kildare’s list of prime suspects (along with Karl Marx!). Kildare engages with Lizzie as he tries to unpick both cases, in the hope of unmasking the Limehouse Golem and saving Mrs. Cree from the noose. It is the unfolding relationship between the protagonists that makes this film special, as Kildare is drawn into Lizzie’s shady world of the music hall and seeks to protect her, just as the other men in her life have done.
The Limehouse Golem has all the ingredients of a Victorian melodrama: gruesome murders, bawdy music hall songs, cross-dressing, opium dens and brothels, all washed down with large quantities of gin. It is a gripping film, which interweaves Kildare’s investigation with Lizzie’s back story, underpinned by thought-provoking observations on gender. For the true crime lover, it is peppered with references to real-life historical crimes, from the Ratcliff Highway murders, 70 years earlier, to the terror of Jack the Ripper, which would be unleashed on the streets of London almost a decade later. The use of flashbacks showing the killings perpetrated by the Limehouse Golem reveal how events can be viewed from different perspectives, reminding us that things are not always what they seem, and a completely unexpected twist throws all preconceived ideas into the air.
I really enjoyed this film and I was particularly excited to see that the final scenes were shot in the courtyard of Manchester town hall. Here’s the trailer to whet your appetite: