Doctor Jekyll arrives in cinemas on October 27.
On its publication on January 5, 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic novella “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” embraced a 19th-century fascination with the doppelgänger as Stevenson told a story of two personalities co-existing in the same body, each fighting for supremacy over the other. Stevenson’s novella would arrive at a time when early psychology explored notions of multiple personalities, and conservative preachers extolled the dangers of leading a double life as they warned of a new debauched Victorian England of indulgence and sin.
Stevenson’s novella would go on to inspire countless writers, from Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1890) to H.G Wells’ The Invisible Man (1897), as well as being adapted multiple times for stage, screen and radio. In 1960, Hammer would bring Stevenson’s story to the silver screen with The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, directed by the legendary Terence Fisher, and now, as Hammer goes through its own rebirth under new owner John Gore, Stevenson’s classic is back with a thoroughly modern twist in Doctor Jekyll, directed by Joe Stephensen.
Rob, the fabulous Scott Chambers, is fresh out of prison, where he kicked his drug addiction and vowed to clean up his life and support his very ill newborn daughter, who resides in the care of social services. But leaving prison and starting anew isn’t easy, as Rob is discovering. Luckily, his older brother (Morgan Watkins) has taken him in and is determined to help him get his life back on track, including finding him work. One possible avenue is a job caring for the reclusive Nina Jekyll, the amazing Eddie Izzard – a mysterious, brilliant, yet solitary pharmaceutical pioneer who hasn’t been seen in public for many years. Rob knows he isn’t qualified for the job and understands his prison past may lead to an immediate “no”, but he goes to the interview with Nina’s spikey estate manager, Sandra (Lindsey Duncan) anyway; after all, at this point what’s he got to lose by throwing his hat in the ring?
Sandra insists Rob is unfit for the role within minutes of meeting him, but Nina Jekyll is far more welcoming. Nina is intrigued by Rob’s past and his need to get back on track, and despite Sandra’s concerns, she offers Rob the role immediately. Sandra closely monitors Rob’s behaviour as he moves into the isolated manor, where Nina floats around the house, waiting for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to be served. But when Sandra vanishes, and the sprawling estate falls silent, Rob begins to question who the beguiling Nina Jekyll really is.
Written by Dan Kelly-Mulhern, Doctor Jekyll takes Robert Louis Stevenson’s original story and creates a sequel of sorts, as we witness what happens when a child becomes obsessed with continuing their parent’s deadly work. Doctor Jekyll joyously plays with the internal doppelgänger premise at the heart of Stevenson’s novella, and it is here where it finds a fresh and distinct voice. Every character in Doctor Jekyll carries two opposing sides. Scott Chamber’s Rob has fought the addictive alter-ego that led him to prison, but he knows that it still dwells within, watching and waiting for any opportunity to take over again. While his ex-girlfriend, Maeve, played by Robyn Cara, is still battling her devilish addiction-born twin and wants nothing more than for bad Rob to come back out to play.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Rob, his brother hides his demon self under a blanket of care, consideration and kind words. Therefore, while Izzard’s wickedly brilliant Nina Jekyll and Rachel Hyde may be the centre of attention, Joe Stephensen’s movie is about the multiple faces we carry and our internal battle to suppress the darkest sides of ourselves. These dark alter-egos exist in us all and often find life through addiction, obsession, doubt, jealousy or fear. But sometimes, they are also born out of oppression, unfairness and a society built on a lack of opportunity and hope. Here, Stephensen’s film beautifully explores themes of wealth divide, class conflict, and the struggle to keep your darker side at bay when little hope is available.
While a strong ensemble cast adds layers to Joe Stephensen’s movie, Doctor Jekyll is, in essence, a wickedly entertaining two-person play as Chambers, vulnerable and anxious Rob and Izzard’s caring Nina and twisted Rachel begin a slow and deadly dance through the corridors and rooms of a mansion bathed in gothic horror. Here, Stephensen’s film takes all the ingredients that made Terrence Fisher’s Hammer classics sublime and mixes them into a new darkly delicious cocktail, from the vivid colour palette to the rousing orchestral score by Blair Mowat and the beautifully staged moments of camp horror: Doctor Jekyll isn’t just a homage to Hammer past its a wildly entertaining vision of its future.
Doctor Jekyll is a wickedly entertaining two-person play as Chambers, vulnerable and anxious Rob and Izzard’s caring Nina and twisted Rachel begin a slow and deadly dance through the corridors and rooms of a mansion bathed in gothic horror.