EXCLUSIVE: The Limehouse Golem, from Stephen Woolley and Elizabeth Karlsen’s Number 9 Films, has its world premiere on Saturday as a Special Presentation in Toronto. The gothic murder mystery is written by Jane Goldman based on Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 novel Dan Leno And The Limeshouse Golem. It’s set in an atmospheric 1880 London when a series of murders has shaken the community to the point where people believe that only a legendary creature from dark times — the mythical Golem — must be responsible. Woolley has said the film comes with a twist “more sensational” than The Crying Game. Juan Carlos Medina (Painless) directs. Check out an exclusive clip above that sets the scene inside one of the boisterous music halls of the time.
The crime thriller uses London’s seedy Limehouse district as its backdrop. Police inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is brought in to solve the mystery and calm the panicked population. He is talked through the past of Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke), a music hall performer accused of poisoning her husband, as he seeks clues that might help his investigation and is soon hot on the trail of the deranged killer. The story incorporates fictionalized versions of historical figures while an essence of Jack the Ripper looms. Eddie Marsan also stars.
The period piece has been described as being in the style of David Fincher’s Seven and James Watkins’ The Woman In Black. It was adapted by the versatile and in-demand Goldman who also penned Woman In Black. Her other credits include the X-Men and Kingsman franchises and Tim Burton’s upcoming Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. Toronto is her first film festival with one of her pictures.
Goldman says she first discovered Ackroyd’s novel before she was a screenwriter “and thought it would make a movie I would love to see. I looked it up and saw Stephen was attached and thought, ‘Oh, good, someone is making it’.” Fast-forward several years and during a stint on an awards jury with Woolley, she asked what had happened to the project. An earlier option had lapsed, but had just become available again and Woolley called her a few days later to say, “I got you the rights.”
She was drawn to the material because there is “a wonderful twist… I’m very, very, very happy to be tricked and caught off guard. I also love the world that it’s set in: Victorian period vaudeville theater.” And, she adds, “all English people have a fascination with Jack the Ripper. I don’t know why because it’s so dreadful, but such a strange endearing part of our culture. Morbid fascination sums it up.”
The cast was set back in April 2015 with Alan Rickman due to star as Kildare. When he became ill, he reluctantly pulled out and subsequently passed away in January this year. His mark, however, remains on the part of the intrepid Kildare. Goldman tells me she had incorporated some changes which came from Rickman’s own notes and thoughts on the character. “It’s lovely to feel his spirit in there.”
Lionsgate quickly acquired UK rights and Hanway is selling The Limehouse Golem internationally with WME on domestic. Goldman says, “I know how much I adored the book and have given it to friends. When I say I just adapted it, people are very excited. I hope the film finds its audience and captivates in the same way as the book.”