The Limehouse Golem is an incoherent mess

Film wastes a good murder mystery plot and a fine Bill Nighy performance

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (Juan Carlos Medina). 109 minutes. See listing. Opens Friday (October 13). Rating: N

There is a perfectly good period murder mystery inside The Limehouse Golem, and it is infuriating to watch the film smash around for nearly two hours and fail to find it.

The Limehouse Golem, which had a splashy TIFF premiere last year and then vanished from sight, takes Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 novel about a series of brutal murders in Victorian London and their connection to a group of music-hall performers and overcomplicates it to the point of incoherence.

Director Juan Carlos Medina (Painless) and screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, the Kingsman movies) structure the film as an ungainly hybrid of police procedural and backstage melodrama, overdoing the stylistic tics to compensate for the familiarity of the material. It’s a Ripper story without the Ripper (the murders have ended before the story begins), and a 19th century All About Eve without any of the colourful personalities.

Bill Nighy does his best as the dogged inspector Kildare, sent by Scotland Yard to investigate brutal slayings in one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods the actor tamps down his charm and his physical tics to play frustration and impatience, and it’s a good performance. 

But as Kildare becomes convinced the actor Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) is somehow tied to the murders, even though she’s on trial for murdering her husband, the film shifts its focus away from him and onto her. Which would be fine, if The Limehouse Golem remained a thriller instead, Lizzie’s story – which takes up more than half the picture – plays like an entirely different movie entirely, with bawdy musical numbers and a romantic subplot that seem terribly, jarringly miscalculated in between sequences in which Kildare interviews potential suspects about ritual disembowelling.

The struggle to reconcile the star-is-born theatre arc with the meat of Kildare’s investigation pushed me out of the movie entirely. Ultimately, there’s a reason for it, but it’s a bad one: Goldman and Medina are just stealing the structure of a much better movie, and once you figure out the game, you’ll either be disappointed or angry. 

Or both.

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