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Bill Nighy in The Limehouse Golem.

3 out of 4 stars

Title
The Limehouse Golem
Written by
Jane Goldman
Directed by
Juan Carlos Medina
Starring
Olivia Cooke, Bill Nighy and Douglas Booth
Classification
14A
Country
USA
Language
English

The Limehouse Golem is haunted with poverty and misery. Its only respite is the music-hall stage, where Dan Leno (Douglas Booth) entertains with saucy numbers of gleeful gallows humour. But he's haunted, too, as is his protégé, Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke), who, as the movie opens, is to be hung for poisoning her husband.

This is the least of the violence that lurks around every corner of Victorian London, with a cunning and elusive serial murderer on the loose. Leno, like Charlie Chaplin, was a sad clown who escaped the streets' scrabbling poverty for another kind of grind, as did Lizzie, and rounding out the trio of intrigue is an underdog Scotland Yard detective (played with just the right defeated bravado by Bill Nighy), himself haunted by professional failures and whispered rumours.

The movie nails the atmospherics but what's crucial here is that it translates novelist Peter Ackroyd's densely historical and cerebral foray into the horror genre into an entertainment, without being weighed down by Ackroyd's numerous fascinating but imaginative layers and tangents.

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It doesn't quite succeed, in spite of a playful, self-consciously unreliable narrative that mixes flashbacks and fantasy solutions to the case.

Early in his career, Ackroyd spent several years as a film critic and not long ago in a rare interview admitted that he has only been to the movies once since 1984.

The Limehouse Golem is an enjoyable diversion – he should get out more often.

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