Mary Reilly

How long has it been since we've had a Jekyll & Hyde? The last noticeable one that comes to mind was Anthony Perkins in Edge of Sanity where he managed to bask his unhinged visage in red light and utter some demented (and often camp) phrases. Well, there's a new one around which takes a more sombre and serious tone while managing to mix together Victorian versions of 'Beauty and the Beast' and 'Upstairs, Downstairs.'

Christopher Hampton's script, based upon the best-selling novel by Valerie Martin, shows the story from the viewpoint of the housemaid Mary Reilly and manages to include some choice dialogue along the way. Following along, in old-home-week fashion, are producer Norma Heyman, director Stephen Frears, and actors John Malkovich and Glenn Close; 'Dangerous Liaisons, Part 2?'

Talking about previous versions, one cannot avoid reflecting upon Spencer Tracy's neglected wish to portray the evil side as resulting from the effect of alcohol upon the man. 'No, thank you,' Hollywood replied and pasted on the horrible face once again. John Malkovich, however, doesn't use any heavy latex masks for his conversion; just off with the grey stubble and on with the black wig , add a limp and, presto, we're there.

I can't think of anyone who might have fit the mold in quite the same way, unless you consider Peter Fonda. On the other hand, Dennis Hopper wouldn't have been a bad choice at all. Can't you just see him throwing Miss Reilly onto the OR table and screaming, 'Do it for daddy?' But back to the production at hand: Malkovich, as Jekyll, portrays an intelligent, tormented, Faustian doctor (who slightly resembles August Strindberg on a bad day) and, as Hyde, the devil-may-care, go-to-the-devil, devilishly roguish, and lustfully vengeful associate (who slightly resembles D'Artagnan on a bad day). Somehow the intensity of these two characters oddly cancel each other out and, as a result, real intensity hardly ever manifests itself. Roberts manages an acceptable brogue as she surpasses her servant's role in aiding her master while being inextricably bound, despite her innocent fervor, to the darker side of life.

However, the moments are rare that reveal the deep-seated hunger and inescapable attraction that lead her to her deeds. All the elements are in the film, but they never come together completely enough to form the whole. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable film. And it's backed up by a solid cast of (real) Englishmen.

The production design for this edition of the shilling shocker is meticulously created. It has an almost overwhelming aroma of Victoriana, except that it's too perfect and too romantic. One cannot help but wonder whether the poor had such perfectly decorative rags hanging on the washline and wafting in the wind or why the vandals of the dirty city never bothered smashing those beautiful street lamps.

Glenn Close steals the day as the fabulously gaudy and garrulous Mrs. Farraday.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett