Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9/10
Cast: Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Eddie Marsan, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Maria Valverde, Daniel Mays, Henry Goodman, Adam Brown, Morgan Watkins, Damien Thomas, Peter Sullivan, Amelia Crouch, Simon Meacock, Siobhán Cullen, Keeley Forsyth, Mark Tandy, Michael Jenn, David Macey, Craig Thomas Lambert, Levi Heaton, Clive Russell, David Bamber.
London’s East End is one of true wealth, not in the monetary kind, but in its people, its rich tapestry of people, of its history and the suffering it has been handed by those whose power exceed their worth and by the bombs and destruction of the evil of ideology. Looking upon it now, the dangers once exposed too just by going out of your front door, disease, strife, squalor, murder, are mostly a thing of the past but it hasn’t always been like that and in The Limehouse Golem, the pain and degradation of its 19th Century past is all too clear.
The turning on its head of perceived social stereotypes is obviously nothing new, and yet for Victorian England it was a cause for concern, it fed into the underbelly of the national psyche that was not to be disavowed by the general public but instead encouraged by certain people as to show that society was nothing but an illusion in the eyes of upper and ruling classes. It was as Judith R. Walkowitz was to point out, a place where child prostitution went hand in hand with sexual danger, of Charles Dickens’ observations in Oliver Twist as tragic heroine and implicated prostitute Nancy was abused and eventually murdered by the man who had been her companion, it was Ms. Walkowitz who calls London, The City of Dreadful Delights.
That subversion is seen to play out brilliantly by using real life figures in amongst the narrative; the employment of Karl Marx, portrayed superbly by Henry Goodman, and the entertainer Dan Leno as possible suspects, also subverts and adds a mirror image to the events that would take place eight years later and ties to that of the earlier Ratcliff Highway Murders. It is indeed a city of dreadful delights and one that Whitechapel and its surrounding areas that were systematically abused and looked down upon from the so called great and the good at the time.
The film captures the squalor and the fascination of the time with great accuracy, the spectacle of the blood and the killing which would have driven sales of the penny dreadful and publications and newspapers such as The Star into a frenzy to collect the stories and the added salaciousness of the day. Jane Goodman’s screenplay of Peter Ackroyd’s novel is as good as anything representing that particular time in the East End and should be congratulated accordingly.
With tremendous performances by Douglas Booth as Dan Leno, Henry Goodman as Karl Marx, Daniel Mays as George Flood and Olivia Cooke giving arguably a towering and disturbing portrayal of a woman accused of murder. The Limehouse Golem is a film which is not scared to subvert, to see the psychological invert take centre stage and one which truly gets the point of that time and place; not for the audience of this film will they have been sold a dummy in the awful From Hell, instead they are treated to a script of intent which carries across perfectly and has the means to convey the Victorian era, one supposedly shrouded in enlightenment, as nothing more than a state of hypocrites and upper class fraud.
Ian D. Hall