The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde began life as a peculiar lockdown experiment melding theatre and cinema into a hybrid feature film. Now director Hope Dickson Leach brings the results to Edinburgh International Film Festival for the world premiere.
Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic novella of the same name, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a horrific tale of one man’s battle between his good and wicked sides. When Mr Utterson (played by Lorn Macdonald) becomes concerned about his friend Dr. Jekyll (Henry Pettigrew), he is soon obsessed with finding the truth about Mr. Hyde, a violent criminal who stalks the streets of Utterson’s beloved city.
First performed live in the Leith Theatre in Edinburgh during lockdown, the actors were followed around the building with six cameras while Hope Dickson mixed and edited the footage as it happened. The film showing at EIFF is completed edited performance mixed with recorded footage. It is a true leap of faith by the creators who are abandoning the safety of multiple takes for the finality of live performance.
Unlike the 120 film adaptions that have been made before it, Dickson Leach’s version gives the narratorial authority to Utterson. With the focus of the story out of Jekyll and Hyde’s hands, we are left to imagine the gory details. Hope Leach exploits this with visuals that harken back to the monster movies of the early 20th Century by Dracula (1931) and Nosferatu (1922). Shot in black in white, the deep shadows provide ample hiding places for unspeakable evil.
“It is a true leap of faith by the creators who are abandoning the safety of multiple takes for the finality of live performance.”
Utterson’s downward spiral from worried friend to tortured businessman as he tries to find the truth is a lesson in losing your humanity. Lorn Macdonald’s breathless pleas of Hyde’s guilt is reminiscent of Colin Clive’s frenzied exclamations in Frankenstein (1931) when his monster finally awakens. Henry Pettigrew’s Jekyll and Hyde is an expert portrayal of the misguided doctor. But because the character is kept at arms length from the audience, part of Pettigrew’s performance is hidden. While this choice certainly has hair-raising results, it is hard not the mourn what could have been.
However moving the story from London to Edinburgh is ingenious. Not least because of both Louis Stevenson and Dickson Leach’s personal connections to the city, but also the dark closes and macabre history lends Edinburgh to being a city with even darker secrets. In one scene as Utterson tracks Hyde to the infamous vaults that sheltered many of Edinburgh’s homeless in the 18th Century, the daily cruelties of the real-world fuse with Louis Stevenson’s haunting narrative.
“The actor’s still seem to be projecting for an imagined audience resulting in a grandiose delivery that chides with the gritty setting.”
But there is something that feels stunted about this new adaption. Hope Dickson’s subtle commentary on masculinity and the destructiveness of power may be interesting; it is overpowered by the film’s concept. There has not been enough effort to adapt the story for the screen, so instead it is too heavily influenced by the stage. You can even see this in the actor’s performances who, although clearly very talented, still seem to be projecting for an imagined audience resulting in a grandiose delivery that chides with the gritty setting.
Otherwise Hope Dickson Leach has created a faithful reinvention of one of horror’s most enduring tales. The blend of theatre and cinema might not have been a completely successful experiment, but the creatives have to be commended for their hypothesis and keen understanding of what goes bump in the night.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde will be available to watch on Sky Arts soon.
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Featured Image Credit: Edinburgh International Film Festival