In the same league as Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is a timeless classic and one of the most popular horror stories of all time. The century-old tale has been adapted into stage productions and countless films starring the likes of Jack Palance, Michael Caine, and John Malkovich to name a few. I even recall Tweety from the "Looney Tunes" cartoons guzzling down a bubbling tonic and playing Hyde-and-freak with that mean old putty-tat. More recently in 2007, the BBC produced "Jekyll," a six-part miniseries penned by Steven Moffat ("Coupling" and "Dr. Who") that evolved from another retelling of Stevenson's masterpiece into a refreshing and modernized continuation of the famous story.
In the first few minutes of the series, it becomes clear that Dr. Tom Jackman (James Nesbitt) is suffering from a rather unique and complex midlife crisis. Tom is looking to hire a personal assistant, preferably one that's open-minded, and with her background as a psychological nurse, the beautiful Katherine Reimer (played by Michelle Ryan of NBC's "Bionic Woman") fits the bill. As Katherine is given a tour of Tom's peculiar maze-like flat, she's brought up to speed about Tom's problem. The two eventually come to an isolated room housing an ominous looking chair with even more ominous looking restraints, which obviously are there for a very important reason. Tom explains the purpose of the chair while keeping his eye on the clock, stating that "he" sometimes has violent episodes and doesn't like surprises. This starts to concern Katherine, but Tom reassures her that she has nothing to fear as long as the lights and security cameras remain on due to an arrangement he has with "him." Nearly midnight, Tom tells Katharine that "he" is almost here, and fastens himself securely into the chair. Not for a bumpy ride, but so Katherine can meet her "other" employer...
Tom's unfortunate predicament has also forced him to drive a wedge between himself and his family life. Wanting desperately to keep his wife Claire (Gina Bellman) and twin boys safe from the primal persona deep within him that aptly becomes known as "Hyde," Tom has left them without any explanation. This causes Claire to hire a private detective named Miranda (Meera Syal) and her lesbian lover Min (Fenella Woolgar), to spy on Tom, assuming her husband is having an affair. But someone else using mysterious black surveillance vans is keeping a watchful eye on Tom and his whereabouts too, creating an interweaving web of conspiracies twisting and turning the story with Hyde somewhere at the core of it all.
Most interpretations and adaptations of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" have sprouted all sorts of creative tangents making Hyde out to be a grotesque monstrosity, usually with deformed facial features and a homely unibrow to match. In the original story, though, it was stated that he just had this evil and detestable look about him that couldn't easily be explained, but there wasn't anything out of place about his appearance. "Jekyll" stays true to this by using very subtle changes separating the two personalities of Jackman and Hyde. Hyde's eyes are black (while Jackman's are green) and a flash of a black eye close-up signified when Hyde was about to emerge. The make-up crew uses wigs for slightly different hairlines, plus ear, nose, and chin prosthetics modify Nesbitt's face just a hair that's barely even noticeable. The end result really captures the intent Stevenson had about Hyde's description and enabled the character to interact more freely in public to add an alternate dramatic layer to the story.
James Nesbitt delivers an elegant poetry-in-motion performance in his dual role, so its no surprise his portrayal earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Jackman was intelligent, witty, a little reserved, but as his confidence slowly builds the further his symbiotic relationship with his alter ego develops. Hyde was often the show stealer, exuding with charisma while still maintaining the creepy and untamed nature of his persona. I also love how his vengeful way of thinking at times nearly redeemed Hyde as a bad apple. It made the character completely unpredictable and sadistically entertaining.
The only real nitpicks surfacing about "Jekyll" weren't even my own, they came from Moffat himself in the audio commentary. Sometimes he pointed out a line he thought was cheesy feeling that he could have thought of something better in hindsight. Another was a scene where Hyde left Jackman a note and the envelope had "Tom" written on it, but the Hyde character always called him "Daddy" and never actually used his given name. I never noticed until he said something, and it was the first time I witnessed someone criticize their own work during the bonus features. To me, it showed that the filmmakers genuinely cared about their baby and were proud of their creation.
I was very impressed with the clear and crisp picture quality of "Jekyll." The generally soft color scheme created a gloomy undertone, and enhanced the "pop" of the bloodstains smeared on Hyde's freshly starched white shirt. The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio is 1.85:1.
The audio is the only thing that I personally thought could have been better. Now I'm not saying that the English Dolby Digital 2.0 track was terrible. In fact, it was one of the better stereo options I've heard so to be fair I have to give credit on that point. It just would have been nice to have Dolby Digital 5.1 available too, especially for a newer release.
The DVD release of "Jekyll" contains two audio commentaries. The first is for episode one with producer Elaine Cameron, writer/executive producer Steven Moffat, and director Douglas MacKinnon. I found it informative as they touched a bit on Robert Louis Stevenson, and I could tell that they were actually enjoying participating the commentary unlike others I've listened to in the past that made them sound like a chore. The second commentary is for the final episode (episode six) featuring director Matt Lipsey, producer Beryl Vertue, and Gina Bellman. It wasn't quite as entertaining as the first, but still is worth listening to for production information.
"Anatomy of a Scene" is as short fifteen-minute behind-the-scenes "making of" featurette for the scene at the zoo in the lion's den. It was interesting learning that certain lions commissioned for films have been trained to work with special effect blue screens from cubs to be familiar with the technology.
The last bonus feature is, "The Tale Retold," a standard thirty-minute "making of" featurette for "Jekyll."
The Final Cut:
My hat goes off to Steven Moffat for coming up with an engaging story that doesn't go down the usual rehash route. Instead, "Jekyll" is an imaginative retelling resembling a mad scientist's concoction with a pinch of suspense, a dash of intrigue, a bit of romance, a pint of horror, and a sprinkling of humor to taste. The secret active ingredient is undoubtably James Nesbitt, who is a pleasure to watch on screen and brought two brilliant characters to life. When it all boils down, the Moffat-Nesbitt combination is a recipe for pure gold.