The Limehouse Golem: Victorian Theater and Gore

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The Limehouse Golem (2017) is an interesting movie, even if it has its problems. Based on a novel, the story is about a Scotland Yard detective (Bill Nighy of I Capture the Castle and Glorious 39) who is trying to figure out who is the “Limehouse Golem,” a fictionalized, Jack-the-Ripper-esque serial killer in 1880s London. His suspect list crosses with Lizzie (Olivia Cooke, who will play Becky Sharp in the upcoming Vanity Fair), a retired famous music hall performer who is accused of poisoning her husband. As the detective becomes increasingly focused on Lizzie’s dead husband as a suspect, he gets drawn into her backstory … which, along with various possible scenarios for the murders, are shown in intercut flashbacks.

The story gets more complicated, of course, because of all the various characters and sub-plots. One of the most interesting is Dan Nelson, who was a real life music hall star and becomes Lizzie’s friend and mentor. He’s played by Douglas Booth (Pride & Prejudice & ZombiesAnd Then There Were None, the 2011 Great Expectations with Gillian Anderson), and woooooo that boy is pretty!

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

SO pretty!

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

But I loved that they gave him slightly wonky teeth! There’s no way that pre-mid-20th century people had such perfect teeth, so it was a great nod to verisimilitude.

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

His theatrical roles mostly involved cross-dressing.

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

Like here, where he’s playing Bluebeard’s wife.

Nighy feels underutilized, in part because the film tries to cover SO MUCH what with the current-day stories of the hunt for the Golem/killer and Lizzie’s trial, plus the flashback stories of Lizzie’s life and the possible murder scenarios.

The Limehouse Golem (2016) The Limehouse Golem (2016)

The biggest issue are the pacing problems — the movie starts at a hurtle and never lets up, and that, plus all the flashbacks/fantasy scenes make it very jumbly and confusing. It sounds like the original novel is written similarly, but it also sounds like it works much better as a novel.

The costumes were designed by Claire Anderson (The Witness for the ProsecutionA Royal Night Out), and I really liked what she did with the 1880s costumes.

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

This is Lizzie’s main dress, which she wears for all the court scenes and while in jail. I thought it was lovely…

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

… especially with all the overlaid lace (also, note the spot-on 1880s hair with the short curled bangs!).

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

The main problem I had was that if she’s trying to prove her innocence, she should really have been dressed in mourning for her husband. And given that in the first scene she’s wearing the black dress on display here, it’s not like she didn’t have something appropriate to wear.

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

Younger Lizzie is down and out, with hair down to boot. Note the fab theater costumes on the left tho!

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

The bangs are right for the period, and I think she’s supposed to be 14 so I guess she can skate by with that hair? Note the grey dress…

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

Lizzie’s first foray on stage is in this sailor costume.

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

She frequently cross-dresses as a boy.

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

Later on, Lizzie ends up doing much better in life. That transition is marked by this striking green satin dress.

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

LOVED the theatrical costumes. Here’s her rival Aveline — an acrobat — wearing a red feather? skirt with a corset.

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

Aveline on stage (you can see this same costume in the display photo above).

The Limehouse Golem (2016)

Aveline in daywear for the trial — still keeping it colorful and dramatic.

If you liked the film, check out this interview with the producer at History Extra, as it gets into a lot of the historical context.

What’s your thoughts on The Limehouse Golem?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

26 Responses

  1. David Murphy

    It wouldn’t have taken much more effort to mention the name of the author of “it’s based on a novel” – the celebrated Peter Ackroyd – than the considerable time and effort spent on the “prettiness” and “look” of the film. Whoever wrote this article obviously wants to be picked up by The Spectator or Times.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      And it wouldn’t have taken much more effort for you to note the byline or the about the author section as well. Or notice that we review movie costumes (it’s right there in our masthead), so yeah, the look of the film is of first importance.

      Reply
      • M.E. Lawrece

        Well, yes–he’s right that Ackroyd’s name should have been mentioned. But not right enough to express himself so rudely.

        Reply
    • Bea

      Oh! clutches pearls
      The droll snobbery of people who consider their sub-genre (literary fiction) to be so superior to everybody else’s genres…
      Sounds like some self-important wanna-be literati wants to be patted on the back for “defending” the “art of the novel.”

      Reply
  2. Susan Pola Staples

    I will probably watch it, but I’m focused on Harry and Meghan’s engagement.💍👑󾓦󾓪

    Reply
  3. Saraquill

    I feel bad for the acrobat. I don’t see a chemise on her, and with a physically intense job, the corset sweat must be awful.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      See, I cut them slack since she was performing and maybe they WOULD skip a chemise for the sexy factor? Although that’s probably a modern take on sexy…

      Reply
    • Knitms

      Originally, she would have worn a leotard or unitard. Leotards were named after a famous nineteenth century acrobat and worn by both men and women. They were a huge part of early burlesque as well. From actual pictures (film) from roughly the same time, I think they were worn underneath the corset-based main outfit.
      You can see a bunch of images from the time here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4938664/Amazing-photos-emerge-19th-century-travelling-circus.html
      (the daily mail isn’t great, but that’s where I found the images, an archive up for auction)
      You can also see an edwardian trapeze strip tease by the strong woman Charmion here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdxoZcHG9BY
      (notice that she strips off her corset, but still remains in a unitard)

      Reply
        • Knitms

          NP, Its a pet peeve of mine, whenever I see a nineteenth century circus/burlesque/music hall set up. I’m always wondering where the leotards are. They kept things from chafing, and allowed the performers to meet the Victorian theater standards by technically being covered from neck to toe. Insane decollete aside, skin wasn’t in during the nineteenth century.

          Reply
  4. picasso Manu

    My, My, a film that wasn’t taken in the Great Hairpin Shortage! how miraculous!
    And I love the hats, too. That bird thing on the last pic? perfect!

    Reply
  5. Ida

    I haven’t seen this but I loved Olivia Cooke in Bates Motel and the costumes look very pretty, so I’ll definitely check it out! Also is it weird that I think Douglas Booth look 10x hotter with the worn, sickly pale look?

    Reply
  6. Karen K.

    Have not heard of this one but Victorian + Bill Nighy = worth looking for. Of course, Douglas Booth is the very definition of pretty boy (and I mean that in the nicest possible way). He is so genetically blessed I had to stop watching Great Expectations, he was far prettier than Estella.

    Reply
  7. Kate in England

    I love that you mention teeth – my dad always used to complain about how inappropriately good the teeth were in period dramas.

    I didn’t understand young Lizzie’s coat, it looked more 1890s to me but presumably should have been 70s? Otherwise I enjoyed the look of it more than the plot, which was instantly forgettable for me!

    Reply
  8. Charity

    I watched this around Halloween and was surprised how good it was — the twist makes it worth a second, more careful viewing to pick up on the subtle clues, but I haven’t managed it yet. Gorgeous costumes and very atmospheric, though!

    Reply

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