Horror Review: Jekyll

jekyllJekyll is a 2007 six episode BBC miniseries written and produced by Doctor Who writer, and current show producer, Steven Moffet. It was his first take at doing a modern interpretation of a classic Victorian character, which he of course followed up on, 3 years later, with Sherlock.

The series follows Dr. Tom Jackman, a successful research scientist, who inexplicably starts transforming into another persona, complete with physical changes. Fearing the violent behavior of the other persona, Jackman leaves his family, quits his job, and sets up an apartment where he can try to unravel what exactly is happening.

With the help of recordings and surveillance equipment, the two personalities are able to communicate enough to come to an arrangement that basically equates to a time share agreement on their body.  To facilitate this, they hire a psychiatric nurse named Kathryn to act as an impartial aid to both of them.  Once the other personality learns about the book The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde he adopts the name Billy Hyde.

Additional complications to the arrangement include: Jackman wanting to keep the existence of his wife and twin sons from Hyde, fearing he might harm them; his wife hiring an investigator to try and learn why he left his family; his old employer, and friend, wanting to know the same; and why a mysterious organization is now following him, claiming to be Hyde’s owners.

And all that is just part of the first episode.

Jekyll is a smart series that uses its set up to explore several questions. Of course you have the concept of duality, as you always will with the Jekyll and Hyde story. You also have a recurrent question through the series, is Hyde actually evil, or is there more to him? And like the original story, the heart of it is the mystery: why is Jackman transforming in the first place?

Two things make this series really stand out; the smart script by Moffet, and the acting. Moffet does not fall into the easy clichés of the traditional interpretations of the characters, but instead looks at them from a more layered perspective. The horror comes from the idea of Jackman not being in control and Hyde possibly hurting his family. Several tense scenes are based on Jackman waking up from being Hyde, at least once covered in blood, and having to piece together what Hyde has done, fearing the worst. There is also the dread that Hyde is taking over and one day will not turn back into Jackman.

From the acting side, any show like this is going to live or die by the lead actor, and how he handles the dual role. Fortunately Jekyll had the good fortune to cast James Nesbitt as Jackman/Hyde. Non-UK readers will know Nesbitt primarily as Bofur in The Hobbit movie. The challenge is making Jackman and Hyde distinct characters. It would be one thing to just play Hyde as completely over the top, and while he is at times, there is more to the character than that and Nesbitt makes that clear. The makeup for Hyde is subtle, just enough that he is recognizably different but can still be mistaken for Jackman at first glance. Nesbitt manages different body language and vocal styles for the two characters, and it is clear which is which even if he is far away enough that you can’t see the makeup.

Another stand-out, in the impressive cast, is Gina Bellman as Jackman’s wife, Claire. Audiences will recognize her as Jane from Moffat’s sitcom Coupling, as well as being the grifter Sophie on the TNT series Leverage. Claire has an impressive arc, as she struggles to deal with her husband abandoning his family and her growing realization of what is happening to him. Her story arc is as central to the show as is Tom/ Billy’s.

Other notable cast members include: Denis Lawson (who was Wedge in the Star Wars films) as Jackman’s friend and former boss, Michelle Ryan (who was Jaime Summers in the brief Bionic Woman reboot) as the nurse Jackman and Hyde hire to help facilitate their arrangement, and Paterson Joseph (the Marquis de Carabas from Neverwhere) as the mystery man claiming that his company owns Hyde.

But for all the good things about Jeykll, there is one glaring problem, the final scene of the series.

I’m not going to spoil it here, but everyone I have ever talked to about the series, who has seen it, agrees that the final scene is terrible, and makes several plot points in the series make no sense. And that it was not needed. You could have ended the series on the previous scene and had a satisfying end. Also the final scene basically ends as a sort of cliff hanger, and since there was no second series it leaves the story in limbo.

I’m not sure why Moffet felt the need to include this particular plot point, other than perhaps he thought it was a cool idea, which it might have been if there had been more there to mitigate the plot holes it creates.

Using the Fanboy News Network rating scale I give Jekyll a B+. It is a superior effort, but the last scene keeps it from getting an A.