TV REVIEW: Jekyll
What if the story of Jekyll and Hyde were based on a real person, a true case? And what if there were someone alive in the present day that had the same horrible curse?
This is the premise of the new BBC mini-series Jekyll, premiering this Saturday at 8 PM on BBC America. The series was envisioned by producer Jeffrey Taylor and Steven Moffat, creator of the British comedy Coupling and writer of several episodes of the new Doctor Who series (such as “The Girl In The Fireplace” and “The Empty Child“). Steven Moffat handles the writing for all episodes.
The six episode mini-series features Doctor Tom Jackman, a man who doesn’t know who his parents were, having been found as an abandoned baby in a railway station. For the past several months, Dr. Jackman has been having black-outs during which another force is inexplicably inhabiting his body. Along with this darker personality that seems to lack any morals, there is a physical change. Jackman’s alter ego is actually younger, thinner, two inches taller, and has borderline superhuman strength and speed. Jackman soon finds out that the famous story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was based on a real person who lived and died in the 19th century. Now Jackman struggles to keep his life in control and his family safe, a family he prays that his own “Mr. Hyde” will never find out about lest he decide to attack them.
Actor James Nesbitt (“Murphy’s Law“, Waking Ned Devine) does a superb job of playing the two lead roles. Like Christopher Reeve with Superman and Clark Kent, Nesbitt is able to make sure you know which personality is in control just by hearing the voice and seeing the way he carries himself. The make-up helps too, yes, but it would be nothing without the proper actor to utilize and almost overshadow it. As Jackman, he is a man we can’t help but sympathize with and relate to in some way, whereas Hyde is at once both charming and quite frightening. When he grins, you’re not sure if he’s just trying to scare you because it’s funny or if he’s actually decided to kill you outright just because you’re confident enough not to expect it.
What’s interesting though is that on several occasions, the show bring up the idea that Hyde is nothing as simple as Jackman’s “dark side.” In fact, he seems to be like a child. He has a man’s physical desires to drive his actions but no upbringing to derive morals from. Since he doesn’t share Jackman’s memories and only started manifesting months before the show takes place, he never had a childhood to shape his persona and so the question comes up as to how responsible one can really hold him for his actions.
By placing the series in the modern-day rather than just retelling a period piece, Steven Moffat has made it more personal and interesting to the viewers. Whereas the original Jekyll had no way of really tracking or controlling his dark side, Tom Jackman and Hyde use GPS trackers and tape recorders to monitor each other’s movements and communicate. They even arrange scheduled times when Hyde is allowed to roam free and indulge himself, provided he doesn’t break the “rules” both men have agreed on. It’s an uneasy truce as Hyde begins vying for more and more control.
To set this apart from other adaptations of the famous body-sharing duo, the series introduces a conspiracy behind the works. Very quickly, we realize that both Jackman and Hyde are being followed by a very rich and very powerful organization, one that not only wants to use Hyde for their own purposes but also may hold the answers to what is the truth behind his condition and where Tom Jackman really came from.
Another interesting thing about the show is the difference in how they approach the transformation. In retelling the story, filmmakers have often tried to go for extreme transformations involving heavy make-up or masks. In this new series, subtlety is key. Hyde and Jackman don’t look drastically different. In fact, they look like they could be twin brothers. To distinguish the two, the make-up team gives James Nesbitt a carefully designed wig so that Hyde appears to have thicker, darker hair and a noticeably lower hairline (thus also making him look younger). Tiny prosthetics are applied to the chin and earlobes to give a slightly different face structure. The final touch is that James Nesbitt wears black contact lenses to play Hyde, making the dark persona appear more “soulless.”
Nesbitt is joined by a cast of very talented actors, including Denis Lawson (better known as Wedge in Star Wars) as Jackman’s friend Peter Syme, Michelle Ryan (the new Bionic Woman) as his confidant Dr. Katherine Reimer, Gina Bellman (Coupling) as his wife Claire Jackman, and Paterson Joseph (from the Neil Gaiman mini-series Neverwhere) as the wheeling and dealing villain Benjamin.
Jekyll is a six-episode mini-series and should be watched by all who enjoy a truly psychological thriller. You’ll come to enjoy not only Hyde’s truly frightening behavior and his dark charm as much as you connect and sympathize with Dr. Jackman’s raw humanity, his fear that those he trusts are working against him and his desperate struggle to make sure that the people he loves remain protected. Moffat’s storytelling and Nesbitt’s intensity both make this a must-see.
I now end this with two quotes from the show that won’t really give anything away about the episodes or plot lines.
TOM JACKMAN: “[Hyde] has Disney favorites?”
KATHERINE RYAN: “He likes the songs.”
TOM JACKMAN: “My dark side likes Mary Poppins. No wonder I was bullied at school.”‘
HYDE: “Ever killed anyone, Benjamin? … You’re missing out. It’s like sex. Only there’s a winner.”