THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM: A Conventional Murder Mystery That Defies Convention
The Limehouse Golem finds ways to toy with you at every turn, making it entertaining viewing despite its seemingly conventional premise.
While The Limehouse Golem is a typical “whodunit” thrill ride, it still manages to act as a pastiche to the classic genre, playing with conventions such as gender politics and the methods that our main character uses to solve the crime.
In spite of The Limehouse Golem still remaining conventional, it is still admirable because it attempts to separate itself from other mystery thrillers, and in today’s mainstream climate where words like “distinction” or phrases like “stray from the formula” make studio execs shudder, I’ll take anything that can make an old and tired genre feel new and excited again – even if it’s set in an older time period.
The Limehouse Golem
The Limehouse Golem is based on a 1994 mystery novel called Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd and is about an investigator named Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) who takes on a case involving a series of murders that have shaken a local community to the point where people speculate that a mythical “Golem” is responsible.
An aspiring actress named Lizzie (Olivia Cooke), who is put to trial for being accused of poisoning her abusive husband, is believed to be the supposed Golem, and Kildare decides to come to her aid out of the goodness of his heart in order to prove her innocence.
A Writer’s Own Unique Stamp
Screenwriter Jane Goldman constructs a murder mystery that manages to play into her writing style of creating a pastiche on previously established genres. Her style is particularly present in her previous work with director Matthew Vaughn. With Kingsman: The Secret Service, they played with conventions on the spy genre and with Kick-Ass, they toyed with conventions within the superhero genre. Goldman slightly plays with conventions of the murder mystery, only this one isn’t as self-referential.
As Inspector Kildare is going through the various suspects, he not only confronts them face to face but he reads a journal kept by the Golem and imagines the suspects quoting from the diary as if they are the Golem. It ends up being presented in a darkly comical manner because when the suspects are quoting lines from the diary, they recite them in a very deep voice as if they were a demon and they end up breaking the fourth wall by glaring at the audience.
Another thing that I found very surprising about the storyline is how it is a bit lighter than I would expect. It does have typical murder mystery conventions including gruesome murders being depicted and a central character being framed for murder, there are interesting moments of levity – mainly flashback scenes where Lizzie is on stage and living out her aspirations of becoming an actress. She has had a rough childhood and had to make her own way into the world but as she lives out her dreams, she finally gets a sense of fulfillment and gets to experience compassion from strangers because of how she falls for a fellow actor named Dan Leno (Douglas Booth).
It is also refreshing to see Lizzie given such a powerful backstory, because when it comes to women in murder mysteries, they tend to be killed off as a way to drive the main narrative forward. But here, it is a man’s death that drives the story forward.
Top Notch Acting
Bill Nighy is remarkable as Inspector Kildare, a detective disgruntled by cases involving heavy media attention who still shows interest in helping out Lizzie’s case purely out of the goodness of his heart. Nighy serves as a strong emotional anchor and he proves why he is one of the most undervalued character actors working today. Even in something like Underworld, a film in a genre that doesn’t often require heavy acting, he showcases visible heartbreak and anguish as a way to express his character Victor’s contradictory villainous motivations. He’s an actor that I hope gets his due at some point.
Olivia Cooke is equally as impressive as Lizzie, infusing fiery strength mixed with frail vulnerability into her portrait of the enigmatic trial victim. Cooke matches her veteran co-star tit for tat and I look forward to what she does in the future which includes her role in the upcoming film adaptation of Ready Player One directed by Steven Spielberg.
The other actors including Douglas Booth, Eddie Marsan, Sam Reid, and Maria Valverde aren’t given as much to work with, even though they do an exemplary job. Although I did love what they did with Douglas Booth’s character and how they opened the film with him giving an overview of the story while he’s performing on stage. As I was watching the film, I felt like it would keep cutting back to him performing the story throughout. But then, the film just traditionally tells the story on its own. It’s just one way in which the film keeps toying with you.
The Limehouse Golem may be simplistic because of its typical “whodunit” premise but it still manages to be a fun and innovative film-watching experience because of its B-movie feel and the way it toys with genre convention as a way to toy with the audience. It also features exemplary acting from the two main leads who help elevate this film from being “good” to “great.” I’d highly recommend that you try and seek this one out.
What is your favorite murder mystery? Please let us know in the comments down below.
The Limehouse Golem will be released on September 1st in the UK and on September 8th in theaters and VOD in the US.
“The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.” Read the Letter of Solidarity here. Make a donation to the legal fund here.