‘It’s positively Victorian’ – Doctor Jekyll review | Films | Entertainment


“Hammer: A John Gore Company” screams a blood-red caption in director Joe Stephenson’s promising opening
title sequence.

After buying iconic British studio Hammer Films, the self-effacing theatre mogul quickly snapped up the distribution rights to this low-budget Gothic horror.

Next, as monkish chants begin to appear in the bombastic score, a newspaper page whirls on to the screen.

“Trans CEO Jekyll Accused Of Abuse,” screams a headline as we cut to Eddie Izzard wearing a ballgown and high heels.

According to the press release, this is “a modern twist” on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 story, and introducing the first trans Dr Jekyll feels like an edgy opening move from Gore’s reborn Hammer.

Sadly, once the titles end it becomes clear there is nothing particularly modern about Izzard’s unusually attired boffin. It turns out Nina Jekyll is the grandchild of Stevenson’s shapeshifting Victorian, and she inherited his pharmaceutical company and something of his condition.

She isn’t the only one possibly locked in a battle with base instincts. Fresh out of prison and desperately trying to stay straight to win custody of a daughter he’s never met, former thief Rob (Scott Chambers) takes a job as a carer and odd job man for Jekyll, who is walking with a cane as a result of an unexplained ailment.

Young Rob can’t quite get a handle on his new boss. One moment, she is kind, the next, she’s cruel. If only he knew a literary phrase to describe this sort of character…

Izzard plays nice Nina and her tetchy alter ego Rachel Hyde with admirable restraint but Chambers’s irritatingly wholesome turn offers few glimpses at Rob’s dark side. The slow-burning plot limps along until we are drenched by a tsunami of hard-to-follow twists in the final act.

The book, which drew on Charles Darwin’s and Sigmund Freud’s then-disturbing theories about repression and human biology, felt extremely “modern” in the 1880s. The 2023 version errs way too far on the side of genteel respectability. It’s positively Victorian.

Doctor Jekyll, Cert 15, In cinemas now


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