This 2003 TV movie is an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.It was produced by Working Title Television for the United Kingdom and directed by Maurice Phillips. The film stars John Hannah in the lead role of Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. The screenplay was written by Martyn Hesford. It premiered in the United States on October 18th, 2003. Due to the film's being made for television, it did not gain as much recognition or popularity as some other adaptations of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. However, Martyn Hesford's screenplay and Phillips' direction have made it a unique retelling of Stevenson's novella.
This film follows many of the same characters of Stevenson's novella. Naturally, the film's focus is on the character of Jekyll/ Hyde played by John Hannah. However, some characters from Stevenson's narrative are given greater character development and influence in Phillips' film. For example, the character of Sir Danvers Carew is more fully developed in this film than Stevenson's original character, which is somewhat unique to this movie. Not only does Carew play a prominent role in the film, he has a mysterious and secretive background that heightens his importance as a character. Yet, some characters are given lesser roles in this adaptation. Stevenson's character of Lanyon is reduced to a minor character in this film, and Utterson's main purpose is to demonstrate that he reads Jekyll's final confession. The addition of Jekyll's love interest, Sarah, also strays from the original text. This adds a gender context that Stevenson's narrative did not have, making it more relatable to modern audiences. In addition, this film also depicts much more explicit types of violence. This adaptation also contains the inclusion of a character named Ned, who works to help facilitate Jekyll's experiments. Furthermore, this film presents a more heightened and complex addiction narrative due to Hannah's depiction of Jekyll becoming dependent upon the identity of Hyde.
Jekyll is a doctor and a lecturer interested in proving that duality in humans exists and can be separated with a formula of his own invention. His ideas are rejected by the science and medical community, but he persists in his experiments anyways. At the beginning of the film, the character of Edward Hyde is actually a patient at a mental institution whom Jekyll plans to perform his experiments on. However, Hyde dies before Jekyll gets the chance to begin. Jekyll then decides to perform the experiments on himself instead.
When he injects the formula, he enters into a highly drugged state and, initially, has difficulty recalling anything that happened. He becomes very violent and morally corrupt as Hyde, reveling in cruelty and sexual depravity. The film depicts his violent actions as Hyde, including scenes of rape. The experiments are portrayed as drug injections, which strengthens the view of the story as addiction narrative. Consequently, Jekyll becomes more and more addicted to becoming Hyde, and struggles to keep the two personae separate. Arguably, by the end of the film, Jekyll does not succeed in separating the duality of man, but rather unifies the duality, thus making the two parts of human identity inseparable and integral.
Much like in Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the duality of man is a major theme in this movie. In both versions of this story, Dr. Jekyll's experiments lead to the development of Mr. Hyde. The difference in this film, however, is that Jekyll's transformation into Hyde is an internal transformation, as opposed to the physical transformation he undergoes in Stevenson's narrative. In the novella, Hyde is described as somewhat disfigured and very short. Yet, in this movie, Hyde does not look physically different from Jekyll. This elevates the focus on the theme of duality because Jekyll does not physically become a different person. Both identities, the civilized doctor and the evil man, are alive inside Henry Jekyll. His attempts to separate the two identities only increases the presence of the two natures.
This film has an important underlying theme of class distinction. This is primarily seen in the characters of Mabel and Sarah. These two characters show that it is, ultimately, a class-based narrative. This is also evident in the animalistic behavior of the lower class and the brutal actions of Hyde, particularly in the carriage scene. Furthermore, the fact that Mabel and Sarah actually share a father (who just so happens to be Sir Danvers), but are viewed and treated highly differently in society, shows that the narrative relies heavily on the importance of class and class distinction. It demonstrates the theme that a person's role in society is based solely on class.
The character of Jekyll/Hyde complicates this ideology because Jekyll belongs to a professional class that is separate from the class in which Hyde belongs. This disharmony between classes works to enhance the tension and strife between Jekyll and Hyde.
This adaptation adds depth to the underlying themes of the novella with the addition of a few key characters, especially with the addition of female characters. The depictions of class distinction work to not only add tension to the film, but it relates to the issues of class present both in Stevenson's novella and his society.
Because the film was made for television, it did not receive the attention it deserves as an adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It adds to the original narrative by enhancing themes of addiction and class tenison, and embodies many of the images and ideas brought to life by Stevenson's novella.