Starring Bill Nighy. Rated 18A
While The Limehouse Golem does offer the chance to spend some time with the companionable Bill Nighy, as a police detective in 1880s London, some viewers may wonder what he and they are doing there.
He plays Insp. John Kildare, ostracized by Scotland Yard for not being, ahem, “the marrying kind”. Kildare figures he’s been handed the random string of grisly murders because he can be blamed for the Yard’s inevitable failure. That’s why he works hard to prove them wrong.
Theatrical entertainer Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke) is on trial for poisoning her writer husband (Sam Reid). Although this isn’t the only time an actor has wanted to bump off a playwright, it’s significant to Kildare because Mr. Cree was one of four visitors to the British Library when a weird sort of confession was penned into a volume called Murder, Considered as One of the Fine Arts. The others were real-life novelist and opiumhead George Gissing, obscure political theorist Karl Marx, and theatrical star Dan Leno.
Leno’s the man to watch. Here, the most popular music-hall performer of the time and place from which Charlie Chaplin sprang is played well by young Douglas Booth, who emphasizes the star’s androgyny. In reality, his comedy was more of the Jay Leno variety, but Florida-born director Juan Carlos Medina emphasizes the strange and the creepy, which pays off in the many grotesque imaginings of the unseen Golem’s murders. But the movie isn’t scary, while what starts as a Brit-TV period procedural increasingly shifts its focus to Lizzy Cree, working best as a showcase for the impressive versatility of Cooke, whom we know from Bates Motel and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Much love has been put into the theatrical scenes, but the music is so loud in the mix—not just during songs but in every passage of dialogue—that it’s impossible to follow what everyone is saying, or singing. This isn’t the sort of mystery you should need a detective to solve.