Ripper-esque killings in the grim East End
- The Limehouse Golem (16, 109mins) ★★★
- Patti Cakes (15A, 109mins) ★★★
- Una (16, 94mins) ★★★
It is nigh on impossible to set a crime thriller in Victorian London without descending to absurd, Ripper-esque clichés. That task is even harder in The Limehouse Golem given the fact that it involves a string of gruesome murders committed in a mythically grim East End. The film is based on a 1994 novel by Peter Ackroyd, and was due to star the late Alan Rickman as Inspector Kildare, until he withdrew through ill heath. His place has been taken by Bill Nighy, and some Nighy fans might feel short-changed by his performance.
Mostly Mr Nighy plays ageing rakes with a wandering eye, but here he's a stiff-upper-lipped Victorian police detective whose career has been stalled by rumour and innuendo. Kildare, according to bitchy colleagues, is "not the marrying kind", and when he's handed the case of the Limehouse Golem, it's clearly intended as a hospital pass. The killings and mutilation of apparently unconnected victims have baffled police and show no sign of abating, and the murders have been luridly followed in the penny dreadfuls. It's a hopeless case but Kildare reckons he might be able to solve it with the help of his redoubtable deputy, George Flood (Daniel Mays).
His suspicions lead him to Elizabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke), a young widow accused of having poisoned her abusive husband. Kildare doesn't believe she did it, but is convinced the poisoning is connected to the Golem. Elizabeth was once a famous comic actress, and her character allows the film to investigate the louche world of the Victorian music hall, with its shameful double entendres that presage everything from the Carry On films to Benny Hill.
That's the interesting bit of Limehouse Golem, but the murder case itself is dull stuff, and the connections with contemporary figures like Karl Marx and George Gissing seem trite, and pretentious.
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Though you'd never know it from her broad New Jersey drawl, Danielle Macdonald is an Australian actress, and may be something of a find. She's the heart and soul of Patti Cakes, an imperfect but likeable coming-of-age story about a young working class white girl who dreams of becoming a rap star. Patricia Dumbrowski is 23, stuck in a dead-end job and at loggerheads with her hard-drinking mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), who almost became a pop star in the 1980s and keeps the dream alive by singing karaoke at the dive bar where Patricia works.
Patti is overweight, and is referred to as 'Dumbo' by her former high school classmates, but has a talent with words and writes songs with her best friend Jheri (Siddarth Dhananjay). When they meet a taciturn musician called 'Basterd' (Mamoudou Athie)at a local gig, a band of sorts is formed, but real life is about to get in the way of their ambitions.
Cathy Moriarty, whom veteran cinema-goers might remember as Jake LaMotta's unfortunate wife in Raging Bull, plays Patti's chain-smoking granny, and their warm but honest relationship is one of the high points of this uneven but charming film, which starts shakily but gets better as it goes along.
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There's a stiff and studied feel to Benedict Andrews' Una, a psychological drama that feels a bit stage-bound and was in fact adapted from a play. Rooney Mara, who's branching out into interesting indie roles these days, is Una, a volatile young woman who abandons herself in meaningless sexual encounters and seems profoundly lost. Little wonder, because we quickly discover she had a passionate sexual relationship with a middle-aged neighbour in her early teens.
Una's never gotten over it, and on the morning after a bad night out she decides to track Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) down and confront him. This tense and occasionally interesting drama never quite manages to escape its theatrical origins, but Mendelsohn and Mara bring the story to life.