Film Review: Dr Jekyll

Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a wonderful story packed full of ideas, symbolism and depth. So much so that it has been adapted dozens and dozens of times in the 138 years since it was first published in radio-plays, films, television series, stage adaptations and even a successful Broadway musical that toured the world for over a decade.

Dr Jekyll standing in front of a yellow lit window.

The newly resurgent Hammer Studios (who have adapted the story previously in a former iteration) presents to us a new adaptation of the story in Doctor Jekyll; a stripped back telling of a story whose beats have become so familiar to horror fans that you are left wondering if there is much left to say.

The return of Hammer Studios is a welcome development in horror cinema, and I will confess to grinning like a fool as its pre-film ident flashed up with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing like a horror version of Marvel Studios iconic logo. And with the Hammer tag comes a big, over the top score that all but shouts across the opening credits in their gothicky-goodness.

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Doctor Nina Jekyll (Eddie Izzard) is a reclusive, recently housebound scientist who spends her days wandering the expansive interiors of her country mansion. Ex-con Rob (Scott Chambers) is hired as her live-in helper against the wishes of her concerned Estate Manager (the always terrific Lyndsay Duncan). Under Rob’s watchful eye, Nina begins to exhibit unusual behaviour and violent mood swings as she avoids taking her medication, with the evenings bringing about a change in her that hint at a dark and dangerous secret clawing its way to the surface.

Dr Jekyll and her Estate Manager standing side-by-side with concerned looks.

Look, with a film called Doctor Jekyll you have to assume that the audience is going to be two or three (or in this film’s case, seven or eight) steps ahead of the characters on screen. Dan Kelly-Mulhern’s script does its best to maintain an air of mystery about proceedings, and while not entirely successful, the dialogue and sparring between Nina and Rob is well written and engaging even when the plot of the film seems to be spinning its wheels.

Director Joe Stephenson makes the most of the film’s gorgeous mansion by leaning into an air of claustrophobia and shoots much of the film as though it were a stage adaptation rather than a feature film. And while it means that most of the horror falls a little flat (with some truly dire jump scare attempts that feel tacked on after the fact), his camera allows Izzard’s performance to dominate the screen and bring some much-needed spark to what can occasionally be a bit of a drab affair.

Dr Jekyll holding a cigarette and looking downwards out a window.

Izzard seems to be having a ball here in the dual roles of Nina Jekyll and Rachel Hyde; gender flipping the character (here Nina is the granddaughter of Henry Jekyll and has inherited her grandfather’s troublesome condition) has been done before, and while it adds a wrinkle to a familiar story not much is done with the premise. But watching Izzard delivering dialogue as though she were monologuing and riffing on stage in her prime is a lot of fun, and she exudes a real charm and kindness as Nina when welcoming Rob to her employ.

But it is with the arrival of Hyde that the film begins to stumble when it should really be soaring. Izzard’s Hyde is all to similar to her Jekyll in restraint, and with a performer as talented as Izzard I was hoping for a slightly more manic take on such a famous screen villain.

A young man with an open plaid shirt and blood-covered t-shirt underneath.

And while talking of things that don’t quite land, Scott Chamber’s Rob is a character who just doesn’t convince. Between his fluctuating accent and muddied back-story (featuring some very silly leaps in logic in the film’s final act), I don’t feel that he ever convinces in the fairly rote character trope of the ‘ex-convict with a heart of gold’ that Rob is supposed to represent.

Doctor Jekyll is a fairly safe, largely bloodless first entry for the newly reformed Hammer Studios. While featuring an all too familiar story that presents few surprises, a fun Eddie Izzard performance and a script designed with some fun and spiky banter in mind help to keep the audiences attention front and centre.

Doctor Jekyll will be available on Digital Download from 11th March.

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