Doctor Jekyll

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Writer: Dan Kelly-Mulhern

Director: Joe Stephenson

Marking a twenty-first-century reboot of Hammer Horror, an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, seems like the perfect way to introduce a new audience to the unique style of Hammer.

Directed by Joe Stephenson and adapted for the screen by Dan Kelly-Mulhern, Doctor Jekyll at first glance, boldly reimagines the classic tale. In a gender switch that beds in easily, Eddie Izzard stars as Nina Jekyll and Rachel Hyde. Jekyll is both a billionaire and former doctor, but requires home help after an accident has left her with a broken leg. Jekyll’s assistant, Sandra (a suitably acerbic Lindsay Duncan), is tasked with the selection process.

A rogue application is slipped into the pile. Rob (played by Scott Chambers) is fresh out of prison and looking for work. He’s several months clean and well-motivated (if he meets the conditions of his parole, he can be reunited with his baby daughter). Despite the unsettling, grandiose aura of the Jekyll residence, and Sandra’s insistence on Rob signing an NDA on arrival, an agreement to a trial is reached. Rob is settling into his new job, when Sandra suddenly, and inexplicably, goes missing.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s creeping tale of dread is a gothic masterpiece, and sets the bar high for any adaptations. In foregoing the classic route, Doctor Jekyll borrows more from its studio style. The tone is full-on camp: Izzard clearly understands the assignment and plays both roles with a nod and a wink to camera. She deploys the famous, meandering riffs used in her stand-up routines. Some work, some don’t. The problem with Izzard’s Jekyll and Hyde is that they are not easily distinguishable from each other: the markers between them need to be more pronounced than a penchant for chess. There are also moments where Izzard exhibits a quiet menace, which feels like a more comfortable fit for the actor. It’s a shame that Stephenson did not explore this further.

The Hammer style isn’t exactly known for its subtlety, but in trying to deliver the ‘horror’ elements, Doctor Jekyll has a straining, almost frantic quality. A clunky, thumping soundtrack is meant to signpost the terror: it does just the opposite. Chambers’ relatable ex-con (some nice early characterisation) is unrecognisable, and unbelievable, by the final scene. The film feels rushed at every turn, and with every scene played at fever pitch, there is no room for nuance. The irony is that, despite the sledgehammer approach applied to this project, the novel already had everything Stephenson and Kelly-Mulhern needed to create a modern, engaging interpretation of the text.

On paper, Doctor Jekyll had the potential to be a really interesting take on the Jekyll / Hyde narrative, but the opportunity to delve into the complexities of the story is ultimately wasted. The fin-de-siecle intrigue is jettisoned in favour of a contemporary gore-fest. As the film reaches its laborious conclusion, the impact of Stevenson’s atmospheric novel of social and sexual transgression, is entirely lost.

DoctorJekyll will be available on Digital Download from 11 March.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Lost opportunities

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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