Thursday, 22 October 2015

Jekyll (2007 Series)

So the story goes that when Fanny Stevenson read the first draft of her husbands new story, as he always asked her to do so she could give her opinions and criticisms, she dismissed it as utter 'nonsense', saying that in effect the story was really an allegory, while he was writing a story. Account differ, some say Fanny burned the manuscript while others say it was Robert Louis Stevenson himself, either way this was to force him to start it again with a clean slate, this time making it an allegorical story as his wife had suggested. One has to wonder if it has been his earlier version published would we still celebrate The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as one of the greatest horror stories ever written, or might it have simply been forgotten.

That was 1885, and now a hundred and thirty years latter the novella has been adapted many times and I'm sure you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know even the basics of the story. The tale of a scientist who drinks a potion of his own creation and develops a split personality, his own good self Dr. Jekyll and his dark alter ego Mr. Hyde, though it may surprise many who haven't read the novella to find out that it was a twist that Jekyll and Hyde were one and the same man, as in the book they had vastly different appearances. Most adaptations forgo this as most people already know the twist, even if they don't know it ever was a twist in the first place, and that many adaptations have cast a single actor in the duel role of Jekyll and Hyde. Todays subject does this brilliantly, the 2007 BBC series simply titled, Jekyll.

Written by Steven Moffat and directed by Douglas Mackinnon and Matt Lipsey, Jekyll is less of an adaptation of the novella but rather a sequel to it, sort of, the book exists in the shows universe and we even learn its origins later on but it's established at the beginning that the books events, or at least a version of them did happen. The plot of the show instead focuses on Tom Jackman (James Nesbitt) a man who has for some time been transforming into another version of himself, fitter, younger, stronger, faster, he has the mind of a child but the impulses of an adult, at first nameless he eventually takes the name Billy Hyde, after both the novella character and a street punk he beats up.  In this version Hyde is never really portrait as evil, more impulsive and amoral, there are few limits to his actions other than the ones Jackman himself has imposed, his selfish and out for number one attitude he starts with just make his character ark all the more compelling as he slowly starts to do things for others, such as in episode two where he saves one of Jackman's son's from a Lion, though you can debate weather or not this was for the child, Jackman or if Hyde simply just really wanted to fight a lion.  This si without a doubt one of my favourite version of Mr. Hyde put to screen, I love everything about him from his over the top actions to the way he reefers to Jackman as 'Daddy', it's creepy as hell but you can interpret why he calls him that many different ways.

We begin the series sometime after Jackman has first started becoming (the soon to name himself) Hyde, they have an arrangement, almost a time share for their body, though it's only Hyde who can force a change while Jackman having to wait until he's done, luckily Hyde tends to stick to their timetable. They communicate through the use of a dictaphone, where they have been, what they have done, 'we need milk and it's your turn to go to the shop' and so on. Our first scene is Jackman interviewing psychiatric nurse Katherine Reimer (Michelle Ryan), to be someone who can interact with both half's and help with his strange case. Of course the choice to hire her is also down to Hyde, but as we don't get to see him until mid way through the first episode the show cleverly waits and shows us the Hyde half of the interview in the second episode.  Though the main meat of each episode is in chronological order there are excellent use of flashbacks showing us the back story.

The first episode establishes the show nicely, introducing us to Jackman's condision, the strain it's putting on his marriage (his wife going so far as to hire a private investigator to follow him), Hyde's manic and childlike yet violent nature, and that more mysterious things are afoot, just who are the black van's following him everywhere? At the beginning Jackman is very much cool and composed, in control as much as he can be but still finding himself in moments of despiration, Hyde only shows up on schedule, if he misbehaves then he'll find himself strapped to a chair for his next change, and only Jackman knows the code to free him (they don't share memories or even knowledge of what the other half has done). And one of the main driving focuses of the show is Jackman's loss of control over the situation and Hyde becoming more powerful, at one point Jackman going so far as to declare war on his other half.

The show is full of twists and turns, it is equal parts mystery, sci-fi and horror and keeps you on the edge of your seat and at just six episodes it's not too long a watch so I don't want to give anything else away. The cast is fantastic, especially Nesbitt in the duel role of Jackman and Hyde, and Gina Bellman as his wife Claire, both give powerful performances. The supporting cast is wonderful too, including Denis Lswson, Meera Syal, Fenella Woolgar, Paterson Joseph and the previously mentioned Michelle Ryan, all of whom fill their roles perfectly.

While reading some of the background to the series I found out that Moffat has written a second series should the BBC be interested, unfortunately they weren’t.  I suppose it's lucky that the show didn't really end on any major cliffhangers though there were a few lose ends that could have been picked up and explored more and it would have been wonderful to visit these characters again and see what happens next. With a new TV incarnation of Jekyll and Hyde starting this week it's likely we'll never see the second series so I can just live in hope that one day they release the scripts in a book or even novelise them.

Jekyll is a wonderful series and a fantastic example of how you can modernise a classic character, Moffat would do this again a few years latter with the incredibly successful Sherlock which he co-created with Mark Gatiss (who has a small role in one episode of Jekyll). This is a series I highly recommend, pick it on and check it out.

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