Jekyll and Hyde (2015)
I’ve seen the billboards for this 10-part series on the UK’s ITV channel on my way to work more than once, but never really gave it much consideration, despite the obvious horror connections. Why? Because Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde has been done to death almost as much as Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood and Dracula. Jekyll and Hyde has been in movies, TV miniseries, comic books, cartoons, on stage as both straight drama and musical (my own favourite was a drug-fuelled comedy in 1982 called JEKYLL AND HYDE… TOGETHER AGAIN, which I thought was hilarious when I was 16 but which I haven’t dared revisit because I know I would find it a piece of shit now, though the movie did end with a scene of Stevenson literally spinning in his grave).
(Oh, and I’ve got to give a special nod to what was probably the worst adaptation, DO NO HARM, which I reviewed here, an NBC series which was so bad they cancelled it after the second episode, after I reviewed it. I HAVE THE POWER!)
To the best of my knowledge an entirely faithful adaptation of Stevenson’s original novel has never been done (few realise that the original story was told from the perspective of an outside character, and he (and the reader) never realised until the end that Jekyll and Hyde were the same person – that was a twist has long since been eroded, and really could never been done now and be able to surprise anyone. And there have been liberties taken with the details to the story, where Hyde, initially described as a weedy, verminous creature, and we’ve gotten some huge, bestial creatures, especially in looser adaptations like LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, and of course, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, where the metaphorical inner beast of the civilised man is made more explicit.
And the strange thing is that when someone tries for a more faithful adaptation of a classic tale, people’s perceptions have already been influence by other examples. When Francis ford Coppolla brought out his version of Dracula, some critics complained that he had changed the story by having his vampires appear in the daytime unharmed, when in fact the original Stoker novel never said that vampires would die or crumble to dust in daylight, that was just something started by NOSFERATU, and was adopted and accepted as a feature of vampires ever since. reviewers praised how Guy Ritchie made the partnership of Holmes and Watson as equals in his SHERLOCK HOLMES movies instead of making Watson the bumbling idiot everyone thought him to be, simply because that was how he was portrayed in the classic Holmes movies starring Basil Rathbone. And of course, Frankenstein’s Monster was never originally an unintelligent creature as Boris Karloff made him to be.
But I digress. I gave the first episode of JEKYLL AND HYDE a watch last night, just to see how bad it would be, because without knowing anything about it, I fully expected an adaptation leaning towards some young romance bullshit.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
We get a brief opening shot of Victorian London, and a familiar-looking figure in a cloak and top hat causing some general mayhem, and for once, it’s not Charlie Sheen’s great-great grandfather but the original Two Face himself, ;s Edward Hyde… and then, we cut to the 1930s, and the balmy backcountry of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where we meet Doctor Robert Jekyll (Tom Bateman, DA VINCI’S DEMONS), who is working in a clinic with his adoptive father Dr Najaran (Ace Bhatti). A runaway truck crashes into the clinic and pins a young girl underneath it, and Jekyll rushes over and tries to lift the vehicle up to free her. And to everyone;s astonishment, he succeeds – but then a manic glee eclipses his face, and he begins pressing his foot down on the poor girl’s face, though he quickly regains his composure as the girl is rescued and Dr Najaran takes him away to give him his medicine for his “special condition”.
Bet you can’t guess what his special condition is, could you?
Meanwhile somewhere else, three men in gas masks and sporting wicked-looking weapons track down this fucked-up looking creature called a Harbinger and kill it, though not before it warns them that something powerful is coming. The men’s boss, Bulstrode (Richard E Grant, HUDSON HAWK – yeah, I’ll reference his worst movie!), runs a secret organisation called MI-0 (MI-5 deal with domestic threats to the Crown, MI-6 with overseas threats, and if you guessed that MI-0 deal with the supernatural, give yourself a cigar or cocaine or something). These proto-Men in Black are aware of young Jekyll’s existence, and obviously know more than Jekyll himself will know.
News of Jekyll’s heroic save of the girl reaches London, and a lawyer named Max Utterson (Christian McKay, ME AND ORSON WELLES) contacts Jekyll in order to finally dispose of the outstanding estate of the original Jekyll. Young Jekyll makes his way to London, runs into damsels in distress and rescues them (and steals kisses as well, which is definitely bad sport, old boy). He probably should have stayed in Ceylon, however, as his adoptive family are attacked by ghouls led by the undead Captain Dance (Enzo Cilenti, THE FOURTH KIND), Bulstrode’s rival with his organisation called Tenebrae, who are also interested in Jekyll.
Needless to say, Dance’s encounter with the family doesn’t end well for them. And when news of their deaths reaches Jekyll, he, um, hulks out, and goes on a bender that would kill Nick Nolte, along his way meeting some underworld types who remember the original Hyde and his taste for sex and violence…
When the first episode was broadcast, ITV and the TV watchdog Ofcom received hundreds of complaints that the show was too gruesome and violent for the time when it was broadcast (Sunday night at 6:30pm), though the channel has refused to reschedule it and the show’s creator and writer Charlie Higson advised people to “grow up”. I’d have to agree. Based on what I’ve seen and learned, the show will lean more towards a GRIMM/MEN IN BLACK theme of monsters among us, as well as making Jekyll/Hyde more like the aforementioned Incredible Hulk than an allegory about drug addiction and repressed sexual psychology. We’ll also be seeing more monsters in future episodes, and who doesn’t want to see more monsters?
The look of the show is very stylised and both modern (the fight scenes are the now-ubiquitous fast/slow motion sequences) and old-fashioned (where we’ll zoom in on a faded poster of a steamship and then cut away to actual steamship), and hopefully we’ll get a bit of dieselpunk thing going, which at least makes a refreshing change from the brass steampunk look. The cast is fine, particularly Bateman as Jekyll/Hyde (am I the only one who looks at him and sees mark Ruffalo, yet another nod to the Hulk connection?)
There’s no news as yet as to when it will be broadcast outside of the UK, but I expect we’ll hear soon. Below there’s a clip from the opening episode that’ll give you a taste of what’s to come.
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains (so far, though; we may see zombies later)
Reviewed by Deggsy. Don’t make him hungry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s hungry. Especially when you see him eat a McRib Sandwich…
Jekyll and Hyde ITV