Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Murder and mystery in Victorian England

There aren't many actors I can say this about, but I'd watch just about any film that features work from Bill Nighy. In The Limehouse Golem, a melodramatic period piece set in Victorian London, Nighy sheds the customary twinkle in his eye (and, yes, it's always a wry twinkle) to play Inspector Kildare, a detective whose colleagues scorn him because of rumors that he might prefer men to women. As played by Nighy, Kildare doesn't seem particularly interested in having sex with anyone; Nighy brings a spirit of existential weariness to his portrayal of a man desperately in need of one last battle to fight. Kildare finds it when he's assigned the unenviable task of solving murders committed by a fiend who refers to himself as The Limehouse Golem. Olivia Cooke portrays Lizzie, a music hall star who becomes the wife of wannabe playwright John Cree (Sam Reid). When Cree, whose career failed to launch, is found dead, Lizzie is accused of having poisoned him. Kildare believes in Lizzie's innocence and thinks that he can exonerate her by solving the Limehouse murders, which are conducted in particularly brutal fashion. Adapted from a novel by Peter Aykroyd, The Lime House Golem includes a string of real-life characters, among them Karl Marx (Henry Goodman), novelist George Gissing (Morgan Watkins) and music hall performer Dan Leno, rendered in a terrific performance by Douglas Booth. Many of the characters become suspects as the movie hops from one red herring to the next before reaching its somewhat strained conclusion. Director Juan Carlos Medina (Insensibles) delivers a richly appointed evocation of 19th Century London in a movie that makes use of twists that are revealed in flashback and speculative scenes about the Golem's true identity. Well acted and richly atmospheric, The Limehouse Golem doesn't quite terrify, even though its talented cast and abundantly colorful artifice sustain interest. Eddie Marsan has an unnervingly creepy turn as Uncle, a music hall master of ceremonies who harbors secret perversities.

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