31st Oct2023

‘Doctor Jekyll’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Eddie Izzard, Lindsay Duncan, Scott Chambers, Robyn Cara, Morgan Watkins | Written by Dan Kelly-Mulhern | Directed by Joe Stephenson

Eddie Izzard stars in this gender-flipped reboot of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic horror story. Produced by the resurrected Hammer Studio, it’s creepy and atmospheric, but altogether too restrained, when it should have been allowed to run riot.

A newspaper headline at the beginning of Doctor Jekyll states that “Trans CEO Nina Jekyll” (Eddie Izzard), the head of a large pharmaceutical corporation, has become a recluse, disappearing from the public eye due to health issues. In fact, she’s holed up at a lavish British mansion, where her no-nonsense housekeeper Poole (Lindsay Duncan) has been trying to hire a live-in care assistant to assist Nina with taking her medication and various other duties.

Enter Rob Stevenson (Scott Chambers) – and yes, his middle name is Louis – a young man who has recently served time in prison, and who’s hoping that the stability and money from this new job will allow him to visit his young daughter. Nina takes an immediate liking to Rob – much to Poole’s disapproval – and effectively takes him under her wing, but there’s a sinister side to her, literally, in the form of twisted alter ego Rachel Hyde, who has an agenda of her own.

Scripted by Dan Kelly-Mulhern, the film eschews the traditional Jekyll-and-Hyde conceit of having a full-blown physical transformation and there’s an intriguing amount of tension in the idea that nobody knows which persona they are talking to at any given moment. Unfortunately, that idea isn’t enough to sustain the entire film, so it drags considerably in the middle section before a busy, twist-heavy finale that ends up feeling rushed.

The performances are fun, at least. Chambers (who previously worked with director Joe Stephenson on his debut, Chicken) brings an engagingly weird energy to Rob – he has a habit of grinning at inappropriate moments, for one thing – which works well, while Duncan is amusingly hauty as Poole. In addition, there’s strong support from Robyn Cara (as the mother of his child, who decides his new workplace is ripe for a spot of robbery) and from Morgan Watkins as Rob’s protective older brother, who helped him get the job in the first place.

As for Izzard, he’s clearly enjoying himself as both Jekyll and Hyde (not least when expressing a desire for “nutty nutty cornflakes”), but the lack of clear delineation between Nina and Rachel is ultimately frustrating, as we never get a sense of how Nina feels about Rachel, or vice versa. The implication is that Nina is trying to keep her Rachel persona submerged, out of fear, but that tension fails to materialise in the script.

In fairness, there are some nice original touches, such as the Jekyll / Hyde formula being administered via a green-glowing roll-up cigarette, and the idea that Hyde plays chess, while Jekyll doesn’t, indicating that this incarnation of Hyde is very much a plotter and a schemer, rather than an out-and-out monster.

On balance, Doctor Jekyll is worth seeing for the performances and the sense of atmosphere, as well as a finale that belatedly gives the audience the sort of thing they were probably expecting in the first place. But you can’t help wishing the whole thing had been a little more unhinged.

*** 3/5

Doctor Jekyll is in cinemas now.


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