AVAILABLE ON DVD: NOW
TEN 45 MIN EPISODES
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In the 1930’s, Dr Robert Jekyll lives in the remote British colony of Ceylon, where he’s been adopted by a local family who’ve kept his lineage a secret and are managing his inherited condition with drugs. This condition? Turning into the fearless, super strong but amoral Mr Edward Hyde whenever he loses his temper. He goes to London to unearth his family history but, while his two personalities become involved with two very different women, he soon has to contend with the Military Intelligence Other [MIO], a secret organisation dedicated to protecting the British Empire from supernatural menaces, and their enemy Tenebrae, who are trying to take over the world and have an array of deadly creatures at their disposal…..
I don’t often do TV reviews – well, I don’t watch that much TV for a start because so much of my time is taken up with watching movies – but I thought I’d write a review of the latest adaptation of one of my favourite stories, especially considering that I almost didn’t watch it at all until all those complaints – complaints which reached 459 after the first episode and then reached a whopping 728 after the second – about its overly horrific and violent nature got me interested. I ended up watching the whole series – not something I always do – despite ITV, perhaps a bit embarrassed by those complaints, often mucking around with the time and even the day that it was on. I found Jekyll And Hyde, which is both a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale and a very comic bookish elaboration of it with more than a touch of Marvel about it, to be pretty good entertainment, if not without its problems here and there, and certainly not up there with something like Penny Dreadful. The plotting is sometimes confused, the acting variable, and there is a major flaw with the conception of the title character[s] as re-imagined by main writer Charlie Higson which I shall mention later, but overall they did quite a good job on something which doesn’t entirely disgrace its source material and in some areas really shines, such as its often gorgeous look which often made it a joy to watch for this critic.
Now, first things first. Jekyll And Hyde does undoubtedly contain some dark and brutal material, and, while I thought that the fuss about the first episode was excessive [a few years ago, Dr. Who had episodes which were just as intense and disturbing], there are things in some of the later episodes, like a parasite which gets inside people and controls their actions, which I thought were a little questionable considering the time[s] of airing. However, considering that any responsible parent would supervise what their child was watching, and how things like the uncut Raiders Of The Lost Ark are now considered suitable for showing during the day, overall I have to conclude that I didn’t have a problem with Jekyll And Hyde being on at the time it was. Most of the actual brutality is softened by the way it’s handled, such as it being shown in slow motion or having the worst stuff occur off screen, while today’s kids are a tougher lot than their predecessors anyway. I reckon many kids would have loved it while their parents fretted. And frankly, I think that there’s stuff on some of these awful talent shows that is probably less suitable for young eyes than anything you see in Jekyll And Hyde.
The first couple of episodes feel rather rushed as they have to introduce a lot of characters as Jekyll, after lifting a truck off a girl, decides to find out exactly why he becomes this Hyde fellow at moments of stress. We have Lily and Bella [of course she’s no prostitute in this version!], the two love interests of Jekyll and Hyde respectively, we have the two conflicting factions of the very Men In Black-style MIO and Tenebrae and the various folk leading or working for them, we have lawyer Max Utterson and his assistant Hills who are helping Jekyll with his inheritance, nightclub doorman Garcon who was once the original Jekyll’s assistant/footman, the various members of Robert’s adoptive family and so forth. There’s much connecting with the doings of the original Jekyll, with some of these bits contradicting things in the original story, though some of the story development is nicely done despite an increasingly silly amount of coincidences, such as Robert having a sister who’s a vampire, while it’s all very well having things largely boil down to Robert being used by MIO to battle monsters, but at least they could have made the fights more memorable.
Still, there are some quite strong individual episodes – Black Dog has a nice Sherlock Holmes feel about it – and things are never dull. Most of the characters are reasonably well drawn though Jekyll and Hyde are significantly different from their usual selves, especially Hyde, who isn’t so much evil as just a bit naughty. While there’s nothing wrong with Jekyll being able to tap into Hyde when he’s angry [yes, it’s all very Incredible Hulk], the desire to refashion the idea into a 1930’s superhero serial also means that Hyde is no longer the evil or the animal inside trying to get out but just a mild annoyance that comes in handy every now and again. The intellectual aspects present in Stevenson and some of the best of the film versions, notably the classic 1931 film, are totally gone, and the idea of each personality bleeding into the other at times more often than not results in moments of silliness which don’t really come off. I couldn’t buy, for instance, Hyde helping the MIO catch monsters. Alongside all this are some things that just show a lack of research, such as not realising that Sri Lanka is culturally different to India. Still, Higson has a hell of a lot of imagination, and isn’t afraid to employ it, while giving us a few surprises too, though he’s rather too fond of borrowing from Steven Moffat’s 2007 series Jekyll here and there!
Despite having four directors who each did two or three episodes, Jekyll And Hyde feels like one person directed it all, having an appealing uniformity of style, and what style it is. While the odd device, such as having the camera film at a sloping angle, than move slowly towards everything being level, then swing back to being at an angle again, gets a little irritating, the show is really quite striking visually, at times approaching a rather weird and rather wonderful combination of the 1990 Dick Tracy and an early Mario Bava film with its garish use of bright colours such as green and red. The fact that not all the scenes are shot like this, though it’s always attractive and bright to look at [none of this dark or muggy grittiness that is the fashion these days!], makes the bits that are really stand out. The design is interesting throughout too, often very steam punk in style, and often done just so stuff is nice and intriguing to look at, rather than make much sense, which is fine with me. Unfortunately the CGI effects are often quite poor, which is par for the course for TV but then why couldn’t they use more practical effects?
Though he doesn’t come near the great essaying of the roles, from Spencer Tracy to James Nesbitt, and hampered by the fact that his Hyde is just a bit too nice, Tom Bateman does do well in the title roles, especially considering that the minimum of makeup is being used to differentiate the two, though the performances elsewhere are a mixed bag, from excellent [Donald Sumpter] to terrible [Stephanie Hyam], while Ruby Bentall drove me mad with her exaggerated posh English accent even though her character does provide some a few laughs, as do the one liners, usually delivered by Hyde, sprinkled around by the writers. And then there’s the ending, which was extraordinarily abrupt and raises so many questions. I guess that the producers were hedging their bets and hoping that a second series will be commissioned. I hope that it will happen, though I have my doubts that it will considering viewing figures kept going down [which ITV can be partly blamed for]. Despite its problems, there was some enjoyment to be had with this series, and if they iron out some of the flaws, I feel a second series could be very good indeed.