Alongside Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes, The strange case of Doctor Jekyll is one of the most popular fictional characters to have been filmed with well over one hundred films based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s book. The story of a seemingly avuncular character that hides a sinister narcissist responsible for pointless deaths could equally have the story retitled as ‘Boris Johnson : The covid Prime Minister’. Instead this is the latest variation on the classic tale with Eddie Izzard in the central role but as Nina Jekyll a reclusive and renowned chemist not seen in public for years and the child of a notorious father whose own controversial research was so controversial which Nina vows to continue.
Into his orbit comes Rob (Scott Chambers), recently released from prison and keen to maintain his sobriety having weaned himself off drugs. Now clean he wants to go straight and support his new born baby that’s currently in the care of social services so who better to look after the infant…..well frankly anyone if social services record is anything to go by. But Rob’s brother gets him a job interview with Nina Jekyll’s hatchet faced housekeeper Sandra (Lindsey Duncan) who is none too keen on the ex-con whereas Nina is intrigued with the double life Rob has led and hires him. They both have a sort of alter ego – Nina’s is Rachel Hyde whereas Rob’s an addict keen to suppress his desire. Rob’s cause is hardly helped by a former girlfriend Maeve (Robyn Cara) herself an addict and only too keen to drag him back down to her level and desperately tries to coerce him into letting her and her gang into Doctor Jekyll’s isolated mansion for a bit of thieving.
This latest version of Doctor Jekyll comes from the newly acquired Hammer Studios, the home of British horror, and much like its monsters, never seems to die no matter how many times it gets close to the financial precipice. Like so much of the studios back catalogue this is a gothic horror and something of a chamber piece with Izzard and Chambers at the centre of it all. Now under new ownership this is CEO and lifelong Hammer fan the suitably named John Gore’s first foray under the iconic banner hoping to hit pay dirt. The studios last notable hit, ‘The Woman in Black’ with Daniel Radcliffe made an impressive $128m and was as effective a chiller as it was a stage play. Unfortunately Doctor Jekyll is unlikely to be the resurrection hoped for and needed for the new management. In its heyday and at its best Hammer was campy horror with lashings of blood, damsels in distress and schlocky monsters with shocking moments but this has none of that. The first hour is very talky before the monstrous Hyde appears and the transformation, where the film could really impress, instead disappoints and there’s an unsatisfying twist in the tale too. Chambers in fairness is pretty good but Izzard as both Jekyll and Hyde is always Eddie Izzard as we know him/her. It’s easy to see the attraction of the dual role for the comedian having been so public about his own duality as Eddie Izzard / Suzy Izzard and his /her casting is on point but in an modern horror that saw the recent successfully raised from the dead return of Saw X in an era where Blumhouse horror delivers, Doctor Jekyll neither thrills or scares but instead seems quaint.
related feature : Hammer’s ‘Lust for a Vampire’ disc review
We spoke to director Joe Stephenson and Scott Chambers about the making of the film….
Hammer CEO John Gore and Eddie Izzard introduce the film at the World premiere…..
Here’s the Doctor Jekyll trailer …..