“It’s all too easy to imagine that those who have enjoyed success have never known suffering.” – John Kildare, The Limehouse Golem (2016)
As far as I’m aware (which isn’t very), The Limehouse Golem was a straight to DVD Victorian mystery movie that, at the very least, was at least not trying to rip off Jack the Ripper in any way, shape or form. No genuinely, it’s so difficult to find a unique product such as this, even though it has heavy patterings of Jack the Ripper throughout. Unfortunately, yet again, it’s another Victorian slog which bears no resemblance to how great the murder mystery genre really is. Still, it’ll surely have some enjoyable amount of credibility along the way, right?
What you’ll always find in movies like these is that the direction, cinematography and lighting is actually quite good. It really captures the Victorian era setting quite well. Costumes and contemporary period pieces can be frequently spotted giving a more aesthetically natural flow to the movie. But a film is only as good as its script, and regardless of how many times I get to see a horse and cart or Bill Nighy snarl his mouth the way he does in every film, it means nothing.
That, in turn, is where the major problem lies. The script is a joke, a messy affair beyond any recollection of what was, at the first draft (I assume) a half decent mystery film. Possibly the worst part of the film was the frequent breaking of the pace. Interjecting flashbacks, which were often quite lengthy, to a theatre production that in some way impacted the plot was not the best way of showing us the mystery unfold. To me, the appeal of the mystery is that we learn along with the cast what is unfolding. Instead, we’re shown what happens, and then wait for the cast to catch up. Really, I don’t see why they split the film up this way, there must have been some easier and even better way of doing this.
Still, although the film relies heavily on both flashbacks and imagined scenes, the few scenes we are left with are actually quite good. It’s mainly just Bill Nighy being his brilliant self, seamlessly entering and exiting scene after scene in an almost perfect performance as usual. I think a lot can be forgiven with The Limehouse Golem solely for the fact that it’s one of the few films to give Nighy a leading role. But because it’s a British made film, you can expect the usual slew of familiar faces throughout. Eddie Marsan from The World’s End (2013) and Atomic Blonde (2017) features rather prominently in an excellent role as Uncle. It’s just a shame he’s confined solely to the flashback scenes.
But regardless of other components, the mystery itself needs to be interesting. Even without the awful flashback scenes, if the core mystery is interesting, then surely the film itself must be redeemable? You’d think so, but about halfway through the movie, the mystery element loses all sense of surprise and uniqueness. It becomes another predictable period drama that you’ve most likely seen literally anywhere else, whether it be on purpose or by accident. For every small gem in this movie, there’s a massive pile of shit you have to wade through to get to it. Sure, Nighy’s performance may be excellent for what he’s working with, but to see this performance you’re going to sit through an hour and a half of incompetent storytelling.
What does surprise me though is how graphic the film is, especially for a fifteen rated film. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing, maybe a bit of gore would lighten up this movie. But when you’ve got a poor Karl Marx impersonator running around allegedly slaughtering prostitutes, the film takes a dive into the deep end of stupid. Most of the violence in the film is vaguely or merely implied, but there are the one or two scenes which depict it and it gets feverishly violent in those scenes.
No matter how good or bad the writing and direction of a film may be, Bill Nighy will always give it his all. He’s an actor that seems to enjoy his time on screen, and can make a bad film moderately tolerable. That’s exactly what he manages to do here with The Limehouse Golem. Of course, no matter who you put in the lead and how great their performance is, it’ll always be overshadowed by how dreadful Douglas Booth is in this movie. He plays an eccentric actor in the flashback sequences and is a main part of the red herring’s the film likes to “unexpectedly” throw at you. Most of the time, it’s a pretty poor attempt and extending the runtime. The character himself isn’t all that great, difficult to pin down to one acceptable or useful narrative.
The Limehouse Golem is a film that, once you’ve seen it, you will never have any desire to watch again. The day I bought this film, as it turns out, is the same day it was added to Netflix for free. I paid £5 to waste an hour and forty minutes of my time. Even my Dad, who loves Sherlock Holmes and all things Victorian, thought this film was shit. If it doesn’t get that seal of approval, then your movie has failed. If the man who thinks Suicide Squad (2016) is great doesn’t enjoy your film, then your film may be quite dreadful. Still, it’s nice to see films still capture the iconography of what it wishes to replicate. It’s just a shame that it wishes to replicate an age old story that has been told better in other movies.
Bill Nighy has, and always will be, an excellent actor. His versatility in a variety of roles, be it comedies like Shaun of the Dead (2004) or dramas such as About Time (2013) make him one of the industries finest and most dependable actors. He’s a hardworking supporting cast member, and it’s very rare that we ever see him in such a largely prominent role. I suppose then, that The Limehouse Golem is one of the few blemishes on such a brilliant career, all because Nighy isn’t his mysterious self. His approach is similar to that of all his other films, which is a shame considering his other films always see him supporting a plot point or other character. I’m not saying he’s a bad lead, just one that needs a better script.