Michelle McCabe reviews the second episode of ITV period drama series, Jekyll and Hyde. Michelle graduated with an English and Creative Writing BA (hons) earlier this year and is currently studying an MA in English Studies.
When I re-read The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) last year, I asked my teenage son if he fancied reading it. His response was that there was no point as the big reveal at the end of the story has been over-exposed and therefore would spoil his enjoyment of the novella. I would disagree, however, as I believe the reader needs to step into the minds and shoes of those who were lucky enough to read this classic at the fin de siècle in order to bathe in the glory of the genius of RLS. Also, because the number of screen versions, are so different to the original that the discerning reader can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes and may be surprised. There are so many preconceptions and biases about the original tale because Jekyll and Hyde have been absorbed into the collective unconscious. It seems that anyone who is deemed to have a split personality is likened to the eponymous protagonists of this classic tale. I wonder though if this is why, when Charlie Higson decided to set the new series in the 1930s, he focused on Jekyll’s grandson rather than the original. This has been done before when the BBC made the six part series Jekyll (2007) starring James Nesbitt as a modern-day descendent of the mad scientist.
Last week’s episode was apparently greeted with complaints about the graphic violence and dark themes being shown at 6:30 pm and I wonder if this is why this week’s has being shown at a later time? Or perhaps it was just because the Rugby World Cup was finished. Whatever the reason, the second episode carried on littered with more little homages to the original such as the discovery that Grason, the barman in the Empire who helped Robert at the end of the first episode had been in service to Henry Jekyll as a Footman, or as he told Robert, as Jekyll’s ‘Assistant’ and indeed helped him in his experiments.
I loved the line ‘They do say that gloomy Victorian Gothic is coming back into style’ upon entering Jekyll’s deserted home. This may not be true to the original text, but it was a nice tie-in: a living link between Robert and his grandfather. So Robert now has eyewitness accounts of who or what his grandfather was, as it appears that the other characters in the novella are now deceased and also a way of showing him what Jekyll’s experiments actually involved. Indeed Gabriel Utterson has, in the series, only recently died well into his nineties. This scene also mentioned Sir Danvers, the ‘beautiful’ MP, who is actually the only character murdered by Hyde in the story. In this re-boot, Carew is the supplier of ‘three vials of oil of monocane’ that seem to be the final ingredient that Jekyll needs to produce the compound that will split his personality in two. I look forward to more exposition of Sir Danvers’ relationship to Jekyll and Hyde as this seems to foreshadow why Hyde murdered Carew in this adaptation.
The series reminds me in many ways of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), a film with crossovers from a diverse range of film and literature including Jekyll and Hyde, based on a comic book series, using these Ubermensch for the benefit of mankind. MIO (the Ministry of Intelligence Other – another nice touch about the Gothic) seems to be made up of monsters and a bureaucracy working for the greater good while helping the masses ‘cease to believe in gods and monsters’ as, according to Bulstrode, these monsters will ‘grow weak’ if this occurs. Bulstrode, played brilliantly by Richard E. Grant is the personification of the Establishment, acting in an Orwellian manner keeping surveillance on these monsters. Some things never change. We discover that Bulstrode wants to use Jekyll as bait for the mysterious Tanabrae organisation, which seems to be made up of dark satanic creatures. It’s revealed that Tanabrae is Greek for shadows, giving even more evidence of the evil it contains. Bulstrode mentions among others, Moloch, Loki, Beelzebub and most creatures of the zodiac, as being some of its members.
Another interesting trope that is being used in the series is the Madonna and the Whore scenario. Robert has met two very different women from opposite ends of the social spectrum in the forms of Lily and Bella. Lily being the upper middle class woman he meets on arrival in London and Bella, the East End landlady of the Empire drinking establishment. While Robert in the guise of Jekyll seems to be attracted to Lily, Hyde’s lustful thoughts seem to be about both. Jekyll seems to be the archetypal anally retentive product of his colonial upbringing in the British Empire’s Ceylon, while Jekyll’s personification of the id is rampant, randy and unrestrained. I do believe that Lily is ‘too good to be true’ and the mysterious mother who is never seen has to have some important reason for being mentioned, while Bella is vampish, voluptuous and very alluring, but has, in the time-honoured tradition, a heart of gold.
If the series continues as it’s started, I believe it will become a classic. Charlie Higson should be applauded for his research and staying true to the original, while still introducing original and exciting new storylines and characters that has left me on the edge of my seat and waiting impatiently for the next episode.