Appropriately the City of Edinburgh takes centre stage in this retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella. Relocating the story to the Scottish capital Hope Dickinson Leach (The Levelling) is given free rein to explore all its gothic glory, to spin a tale of human behaviour and the inhumanity of the upper classes.

Going back to the source, our story concerns Gabriel Utterson (Lorn MacDonald), a solicitor of extremely modest means. Quiet and well-mannered he has all the hallmarks of a Victorian gentleman except the status itself. A drawback which he hopes his friendship with Doctor Henry Jekyll (Henry Pettigrew) could one day remedy. However, Jekyll is prone to strange behaviour, changing his will in favour of his assistant Mr Hyde, a man curiously linked to violent assaults and deaths throughout the city. As Utterson edges closer to the truth of the two men he finds his place in the city elevated by the wealthy, if thoroughly repugnant gentlemen who come his way, such as the callous, sickly brewery owner Sir Danvers Carew (David Hayman).

The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde 2

It’s through Stevenson’s characters, and Edinburgh’s architecture that Leach is able to craft a gothic horror on the inherent hypocrisy between the cruelty of the ruling classes and gentlemanly behaviour. Throughout the film Utterson struggles to adopt the trappings of status, how to wear a hat, how to speak to one’s peers, and yet the higher he rises, the more monstrous he becomes. Much of this is in the subtleties of MacDonald’s performance, the ease with which he endears himself with his servants, the insecurity in his eyes as he struggles to dress properly. A pleasant façade that falls apart when he’s forced to deal with the lower classes.

Utterson’s story dominates the film far more than the actual story of Jekyll and Hyde, rendering more background detail for when the narrative needs to return to pure gothic horror. Hyde is less an antagonist and more a manifestation of the social ills that the industrial era has wrought on the city. To her credit though Leach frames his as a thoroughly frightening figure, stalking Utterson through the streets like a demon. Thundering footsteps and lightning fast turns deliver real scares whenever he is onscreen.

The film sadly never slips into a consistent mode of horror. It’s far more concerned with social commentary than building and maintaining atmosphere. However it’s a compelling and dynamic follow up from one of the industry’s freshest talents.