THE Limehouse Golem pulls off a very tough thing to achieve; to make the violent and the vulgar seem not only compelling to behold for a couple of hours but to enrapture you in its beautiful, oftentimes weird grotesqueness.

We’re chucked head first into the crowded and grimy world of late 19th century London where the community of Limehouse is gripped by fear after a series of murders committed by someone referred to rather peculiarly as The Limehouse Golem, so-called after the legendary and feared mythical creature from Jewish folklore.

Assigned to investigate the murders is the initially reluctant Scotland Yard Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy). He sets out to uncover the culprit with the help of by-the-book policeman George Floyd (Daniel Mays), happening across a clue in the local library that he deems vital to the case.

His investigation leads him to Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke), a young woman who stands accused of poisoning her husband John (Sam Reid) and whose colourful, stage performing backstory may be the ultimate key to finding out the truth about the grisly murders.

This is a clever, deliciously dark and strikingly theatrical adaptation of the Peter Ackroyd’s 1994’s novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by director Juan Carlos Medina (Painless) and screenwriter Jane Goldman (The Woman in Black, Stardust), one that finds a way to both truly invest us in an authentic representation of a bustling Victorian London and play up its sense of heightened suspicion and danger around every corner.

As the film slowly unravels the central mystery via an effectively labyrinthine plot, we literally get to see Inspector Kildare’s envisioning on-screen in hazy, nightmarish retellings of the various elaborate kills as he goes through the list of suspects drawn from the array of eclectic, variously trustworthy supporting characters the film throws up. Owing to the film’s skilfully paranoid atmosphere, you begin to wonder if everyone could be a suspect or if that suspicion is purely our own doing.

In spite of its almost proud histrionics, the film makes sure to shade some complexity into those characters; Nighy gives one of his best performances in ages as the world-weary Inspector Kildare whose passing interest in the slayings creeps into full on obsession, while Cooke is utterly compelling as Lizzie, jumping back and forth from fraught prisoner to wide-eyed performer as she tells her life story so crucial to the central mystery.

The overt theatrics that so perfectly tie in with the salaciousness of the murderous plague adorning the front pages of newspapers come wildly to the forefront in the many scenes that literally take place in a theatre/musical hall.

Run by the enigmatic Uncle (Eddie Marsan), we see how audiences of the time flock to the location for both escape and retelling of their newfound murder-filled reality, hanging on the every word of Douglas Booth’s cross-dressing performer Dan Leno who comes across like Russell Brand putting on a particularly sensationalist one man show.

There’s a lot packed into the film and there’s the occasional wobble as it struggles to keep a handle on the dangling threads.

But it’s done with such ostentatious panache and compellingly layered mystery that, by the time we get to the satisfying rug pull of an ending, the few bumps on the road hardly seem to matter.

It’s infused with a perpetual air of intriguing mystery and horrific suspense, told with a self-aware glint in its eye and the love of a good-old fashioned, blood-soaked whodunit enigma.