Robert Louis Stevenson’s horror novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a legendary story that has been spooking audience since the 19th century.
Now Hammer Horror returns to the big screen with a modern-day adaptation of Stevenson’s work, can it transform into memorable version of the story?
Directed by Joe Stephenson, Doctor Jekyll revolves around young Rob, a drug addict who has just been released from prison. Eager to prove himself and also to earn visitation rights to his dying daughter, Rob is sent to be a caregiver for the reclusive billionaire Doctor Nina Jekyll. As the two bond, Rob starts to suspect that there is something not quite right about his new employer…
Casting Eddie Izzard as the two-sided eponymous anti-hero is the cleverest aspect of this film. The actress is having the best time in this gender-bent exploration of Stevenson’s novel. In the beginning of the film, as the more reserved and sometimes serene Doctor Jekyll, there is an incredible dignity in how Izzard holds herself. Charming, smart, and ultimately generous, Nina takes Rob under her wing, and it is clear to see how Rob would fall under the spell.
Which is great when we get to meet Hyde because, thanks to a good script and a superb performance, you absolutely are second guessing when the villain appears. Everyone knows that if you call a character Jekyll, then there is going to be some duality going on as well as a transformation scene. So, filmmakers over the years have to designate another plot device to help build the tension. A lot of the times, it is dramatic irony as the audience knows there is a something else going on more so over the main character.
Here it is the theme, and the message that is uttered constantly by the characters – “always be two steps ahead.” Without a monstrous transformation, which is overdone at this point, there is this slight air of capriciousness. You are constantly guessing which scenes were actually Rachel Hyde masquerading as Nina, and whether we actual got to meet Nina at all. That’s a remarkable feet and Izzard needs to be properly celebrated for handling such an intriguing interpretation, culminating in an exquisite camp finale.
Scott Chambers is a newcomer, and he is excellent. Rob is a man trying his best to be better for his daughter. This is clear and whilst you never forget that Rob has done some sketchy things in the past, but he is trying so hard to be better. This, however, comes with a nervousness as you know he is being pulled into further horrors. Chambers pays Rob with this jitteriness that is endearing and fantastic character work as the desperation clings to him. Chambers is certainly an actor to watch.
With the exception of a few side characters, there is nothing to fault with the acting. However, there are some pacing issues which make the film falter. Just some slight moments and budgetary restraints that make the film feel a bit unpolished – as if editors cleaved the soul of the film into pieces and took some good chunks that would’ve made it feel whole. There is also a change of the essence of Hyde that I have been ruminating on for a few weeks now and I cannot fathom whether I liked it or not…
That being said, the ending is also exquisite and gives room for Chambers to do some impressive work. Stephenson is a great upcoming director who has created a bloody good campy romp here. Whilst it is shaky in places, thanks to some brilliant acting and a great script, Doctor Jekyll is a rollicking brilliant time.