Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Doctor Jekyll

FrightFest review – Doctor Jekyll

NB: the version screened at FrightFest is apparently going to be altered for release.  This review is of the film as it screened at the festival.

At some point in production, this was a Hammer film – which puts in a tradition of off-center Jekyll and Hyde movies with The Ugly Duckling, The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll and Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde.  In the event, the only real Hammer trace is the font of the credits – though Dan Kelly-Mulhern’s script does play an unusual variation on the premise (owing a little, weirdly, to Paul Naschy’s Dr Jekyll and the Werewolf).

Just out of prison and trying to stay straight in the hope of getting access to a daughter he’s never met, young Rob (Scott Chambers) – we later find out his full name is Robert Louis Stevenson – is encouraged by his brother (Morgan Watkins) to apply for a job in care at the home of reclusive pharmaceuticals billionaire Nina Jekyll (Eddie Izzard), who has unspecified infirmities which mean she has to use the heavy-headed cane we remember from various straight J&H films.  Poole (Lindsay Duncan), Jekyll’s right-hand-woman, is suspicious, but Rob wants to do a good job even though he’s less able to make out Nina’s circumstances than we are.  Why does she want the security system reset so only Rob knows the code?  Why does she not know the next morning what she said – or even what she was like – the night before?  Who is Rachel Hyde, a persona who surfaces whenever a green-tipped cigarette is puffed?  Why has a major character disappeared from the film and what really happened to them?  And how does this all connect with the original Dr Jekyll – played, in a significant cameo, by the familiar Jonathan Hyde, whose name can’t have hurt him when he auditioned?

Rob is almost irritatingly well-intentioned, though he has spurts of the ratlike canniness which he must have cultivated in his criminal days.  Maeve (Robyn Cara), Rob’s ex, tries to prevail on him to let her and a crew pull a home invasion on the Jekyll mansion, which is clearly a very bad idea – especially since Nina tends not to be in control of herself at night, when the burglars are due.  The hook of this reboot is Eddie Izzard in drag as a female Jekyll and Hyde – following his little-seen turn as Dracula/Grandpa Munster in Mockingbird Lane, with a tiny reference here which means I’ll eventually have to include the film in my Your Daily Dracula online feature though explaining why would constitute a spoiler.  Jekyll and Hyde isn’t really a role (or roles) which asks for underplaying, but Izzard doesn’t overdo either person – which keeps the drama on the downlow for much of the thinly-populated, slow-burning movie, but allows for an unusual, properly chilling reveal of a last-reel red-lipped, malicious Hyde (Izzard isn’t the only player here who gets to deliver a Hyde).  Director Joe Stephenson (who directed Chambers in Chicken) plays up claustrophobia – this would possibly work as well on stage – and errs a little on the side of respectability.

J&H is the story of id unleashed as well as evil, and Doctor Jekyll could do with more bludgeoning, capering and snarling to go with its sense of creeping coercion – this Hyde plays chess, indicating a more thoughtful approach to being wicked than the usual caveman antics.

Here’s the FrightFest listing.





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