The Limehouse Golem is a gothic horror story set in and around the world of Victorian music hall entertainers only rather than a supernatural horror, there is a serial killer, rather in the mould of Jack The Ripper. The titular golem is the name the press choose for the killer. The film is apparently in two parts, with the investigation of the Golem case running in parallel with the trial of one of the music hall players for murdering her husband, mainly on the testimony of the maid.

As time goes by, and the investigation proceeds, we find out much more about the victim and the two women as well as a number of other characters. Being based on a Peter Ackroyd book, some of these are real:

  • Everyone should recognise Karl Marx!
  • Dan Leno was a great music hall comedian and so well known and called on by Edward VII so he was publicly called “The King’s Jester.”
  • We also meet George Gissing, a novelist who is known for marrying a woman of ill-repute.

Although there is a large cast, and at times we see large groups of them together this film is almost a series of theatrical two-handers, with those large group scenes splitting up the two-handers. In some ways (although it’s not sung) it’s almost like an opera in structure, with a small number of leads carrying the bulk of the work, and the chorus coming in to let the set be changed or the leads to change costume or similar. We have a lot of scenes in prison between Inspector Kildare and Elizabeth Cree. We have quite a few between Elizabeth Cree (before and after marriage) and John Cree. We have a lot between Kildare and PC Flood. Even though most of the scenes with Elizabeth and Dan Leno are bigger scenes with the performers, even they have a couple of two-handed scenes.

However, all of the actors here well cast and carry all their scenes really well so the film remains eminently watchable. Even those who are not used to seeing Bill Nighy in a more serious role (I listen to Radio 4 and I’m used to hearing him in those roles at least) should be happy with his performance here.

The only complaint about this film I would have is that the inevitable “twist” is too well signalled and comes, for all of us that saw it, as no surprise. It might be different reading it, but watching it, you expect the twist and I can’t help feeling it would have been a better film to defy expectations and not have it. There is a final scene that one of us found really confusing as well but the rest of us could work out the faces well enough that it didn’t bother us. The unveiling of the complexity of what was going on with the characters and in particular in the Cree household was also an interesting little side story.

The film got, in the UK, a 15 certificate despite warnings for strong bloody violence, gory images, strong sex, sexual violence. Given the number of warnings and the number of “strongs” in there I was quite surprised it didn’t have an 18 rating. But most of the violence is implicit and the various gory bits are short, so it’s probably the right rating. But there are various scenes which involve killing prostitutes and a (thankfully very non-explicit) rape scene so some trigger warnings are in order.

This is might turn out to be a niche film but if you like a good police movie and a good costume drama, this is a cross-genre movie you should enjoy if you don’t mind the gore and the sexual violence. And if you’re a fan of a good gothic horror there is more than enough of the Victorian morality tale here, as well as some gruesome murders to satisfy that too.

Bechdel test: Despite a fair number of named female characters and some exchanges between them (so passing two of the three elements) there isn’t a conversation that isn’t about a man that I remember. There are a couple of very short exchanges, one line each way that don’t quite count as a conversation that aren’t about a man so it gets close, but fails.

Russo test: Inspector Kildare is thought to be gay (but it’s not clear if he is). PC Flood is indicated to be gay in both something he says and his companion at the music hall in the finale. Elizabeth Cree is shown to be fairly clearly asexual, probably as a result of abuse. So yes, definitely, as these are three of the main characters, and in Lizzie’s case it’s a defining part of her character, in Kildare’s case it’s an important part of his history, it’s a pass. While I understand the Russo test is not about “just adding it on” and that is important for good representation, showing Flood as potentially living as a gay man without making anything major of it is just as important really, although in Victorian England it would have been considered a blight of course and that is shown by the way even the rumour of it has stunted Kildare’s career.

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