Rating: 2.5 out of 5
A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to rise above the murky atmosphere it weaves. And the plot itself is as dense as the low-lying London fog. But the gifted cast members make the most of the talky dialogue, drawing the audience into a twisty mystery even if it perhaps isn't as surprising as it hopes to be.
This is 1880 East London, where Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) has been dogged by rumours that he's "not the marrying kind", so he's given the most hopeless case in town: finding a ghostly serial killer who is staging increasingly elaborate murders. With Constable Flood (Daniel Mays) helping him, Kildare narrows the suspects down to philosopher Karl Marx (Henry Goodman), stage star Dan (Douglas Booth), novelist George (Watkins) or playwright John (Sam Reid), whose actress wife Lizzie (Olivia Cooke) is on trial for poisoning him. For some reason, Kildare becomes particularly intrigued by Lizzie's case, hoping he can get some inside information about her stage colleagues from her.
In adapting Peter Ackroyd's novel, Jane Goldman seems intent on including all of the book's gyrations and details, which can't help but make the film feel overstuffed. Plot-strands head off in every direction (including flashbacks and imagined sequences), many simply vanishing while others take turns that don't quite make sense. Even so, alert viewers will easily work out whodunit by about halfway through. Then the script waits until the very end to reveal this.
Along the way there's plenty of fun to be had in this bawdy version of London, with its colourful theatres and prickly courtrooms. And the characters are also enjoyable, especially since each person has a motive for murder. Nighy anchors the cast with his usual effortless sardonic charm, while Booth gets the most colourful role and Cooke has the most dramatic story arc, which includes some singing and comedy along the way.
This is a film packed with outrageous touches, which keep the audience on its toes. Director Juan Carlos Medina playfully misleads the viewer every chance he gets, shamelessly cutting away from key moments merely to maintain the mystery. And he wallows in the emotions of other scenes as well. It's somewhat frustrating that the film never quite settles on a point of view for us to grab hold of, jumping instead from character to character. So it's not easy to care who did it or why. But it's enjoyable enough while it lasts.
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Facts and Figures
Production compaines: Number 9 Films
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Cast & Crew
Director: Juan Carlos Medina
Screenwriter: Jane Goldman
Starring: Bill Nighy as John Kildare, Olivia Cooke as Lizzie Cree, Douglas Booth as Dan Leno, Daniel Mays as George Flood, Sam Reid as John Cree, María Valverde as Aveline Ortega, Henry Goodman as Karl Marx, Morgan Watkins as George Gissing, Eddie Marsan as Uncle, Adam Brown as Mr. Gerrard, Peter Sullivan as Inspector Roberts, Damien Thomas as Salomon Weil, Louisa-May Parker as Mrs. Gerard, Siobhán Cullen as Sister Mary, Levi Heaton as Sarah Martin, Clive Brunt as Charlie, Edythe Woolley as Nell Gissing, Anita Breheny as Jane Quig, Amelia Crouch as Young Lizzie, Simon Meacock as Prison Guard, Paul Ritter as Hansom cab driver