A series of gruesome slayings in the Victorian East End is attributed to a ghoulish mythological figure in this adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s novel ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’. Dogged Scotland Yard detective Bill Nighy decides a notorious Thomas De Quincey essay borrowed from the British Library is a vital clue to the mystery: suddenly, cross-dressing music hall star Dan Leno (a revelatory Douglas Booth) is in the frame, along with socially aware novelist George Gissing and a certain emigré political theorist called Karl Marx.
This classier-than-average shocker leaves you with renewed appreciation of east London as a historical melting-pot, but ‘Kick-Ass’ screenwriter Jane Goldman also underlines the suffering endured by the likes of Olivia Cooke’s music hall performer, for whom the footlights help blank out grim memories of childhood poverty.
With so many threads to unpack, Juan Carlos Medina’s modestly budgeted affair occasionally labours to get through everything, but the dizzying plot always intrigues. Nighy gives another suave masterclass, and the whole thing positively burns with passionate advocacy for the artists, free-thinkers and social outsiders who’ve been the making of modern London.