1880, Victorian London. Infamous killer Jack the Ripper is on the cusp of his murderous spree through the gothic, shadowy suburbs of the industrialised city. But not before another spills blood on the streets before him; the mass murdering Limehouse Golem.
We explore the gruesome series of deaths left by the Golem through the eyes of Bill Nighy’s Inspector Kildare, who is tasked with the duty of unravelling the killer’s identity. The first of his suspects being the recently deceased aristocrat John Cree (Sam Reid), whose wife Elizabeth (the film’s standout, Olivia Cooke) stands trial for his murder. It’s a delve into her past that brings us to the glamorous music halls of London and Elizabeth’s rise to stardom under the tutelage of the acclaimed performer Dan Leno (Douglas Booth). Whilst Kildare and Elizabeth’s plot threads feel disparate initially, linked only by circumstance, they’re set to collide in an intensely nonsensical conclusion.
Daft as it all might become, there’s intrigue and drama aplenty to get stuck into before all is revealed, as well as some gorgeous production design. Most of which comes from Elizabeth’s side of the fence. Her dark tale takes her from dingy workhouses, rape and beatings, to the colour and promise-filled world of theatre. It’s this journey which adds some much needed visual and thematic texture to proceedings, and Cooke’s charming performance brings light in among the general bleakness of it all.
Meanwhile, over with Kildare, it’s all a little bit flat. Which, when you consider that’s where all the bloodshed is going down, points to trouble. Mostly it boils down to a series of scenes with Bill Nighy trudging around interviewing famous philosophers, dumping exposition as he goes. Nighy himself isn’t the problem here, more so it’s the lack of attention his character is given which leaves him underserved. There are vague whispers about Kildare having been held back in his career because of his sexuality, yet there’s no real development on this, leaving it as little more than a side note.
The murders most foul are at least suitably frightful; each messy, bloody, violent, and thrilling. If only the mystery that they’re wrapped around were a touch more thrilling too.
Rating (out of 5):