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
© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett