Even by Victorian standards, the 2003 television adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is very conservative. Like The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, this version deliberately reframes the story to make a philosophical statement opposite to Robert Louis Stevenson's and it also takes a cue from Mary Reilly in its focus on the servant class. In this case, it does so to argue that some people are meant to be servants and others are meant to be aristocrats, that it's something possibly determined by inherited genetic traits. Other than the levels of violence portrayed, at the heart of this story is a perspective that might have been applauded by an ardent Victorian Royalist. It has lousy dialogue and a mediocrity in composition, editing, and music typically associated with TV movies but it also has some decent performances and some really pretty sets.
Early in the movie we get what seems like some really clumsily expository dialogue--Dr. Jekyll explaining how society celebrates carefully composed surface over the reality of human nature, which is partly the point of the novella. But this adaptation introduces the idea to make a point that this superficiality is really one of the best achievements of the human race and is fully necessary for a properly functioning society. I don't agree but I'll admit the movie makes some good points.
I knew David Warner would turn up in one of these eventually. He plays Sir Danvers here in an expanded role--in the novella he's just the MP whom Hyde randomly murders in the street. In many film versions, he becomes the father of Jekyll's fiancee--here he's the father of Sarah (Elodie Kendall) who would very much like to be Jekyll's fiancee but for unexplained reasons he always declines her attentions. This is also the first adaptation I've seen that actually focuses on Sir Danvers' career as a politician.
Warner plays the role as halfway to villainous. We're meant to recoil at the obvious hypocrisy of this guy who uses the poor as a publicity opportunity and he has a lot of dialogue about the importance of maintaining his reputation and avoiding scandal in order to keep his career. By the end of the movie, though, we're clearly meant to sympathise with him as we see that, yes, he's had an illegitimate child but he really has tried to help her and her mother. Obviously he couldn't help them if he didn't have his position and he couldn't have his position if it weren't for his reputation. But the movie's not as convincing when Danvers deliberately overlooks a rape in order to preserve his status--does letting the rapist continue, unfettered and unrepentant, really serve the greater good?
The rapist is Hyde, of course. John Hannah plays both Jekyll and Hyde, playing Jekyll a little more convincingly. Like the Jekyll in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, he doesn't believe in the "good and evil" moral dichotomy which the novella Jekyll subscribes to. Hannah's Jekyll believes in coexisting "high" and "base" personalities and directly rejects not only the idea of good and evil but of the existence of God. The movie could hardly more clearly set up its position as anti-Nietzschean/Byronic. He goes further by arguing that all people are biologically part of the same species, something Sir Danvers' wife (Mel Martin) scoffs at, pointing out there's a world of difference between her daughter, Sarah, and the girl serving peas at that moment, Mabel (Kellie Shirley).
Mabel is Jekyll's servant and essentially occupies the Mary Reilly role as she takes on more and more heroic qualities in the story and as an influence in Jekyll's life. She tells him about the grace of God and patiently indoctrinates him on the idea of good and evil. And just in case you think this is the movie refuting the idea that roles are biologically determined part of the movie's climax is a revelation that Mabel has at least one very distinguished parent. Mabel is definitely no Rey.
Meanwhile, another of Jekyll's servants, a boy named Ned (Jack Blumenau), gets wind of Jekyll's opinions on human equality and it inspires him to blackmail Jekyll when he learns he and Hyde are one and the same. This is what happens when people get ideas above their station!
Integral to the movie's unselfconsciously misanthropic idea is that liberated people naturally want to hurt people for no reason. Part of the point of the novella is that repression by a superficial morality inspires a contrary impulse to transgress. The point of this TV movie is that this superficial morality is all that stops us from killing and raping one another.
There's no change in appearance between Jekyll and Hyde in this version but in this case people actually do recognise Hyde as Jekyll. Which removes the idea of Jekyll glorying in the license of anonymity. He basically takes a potion that makes him into an asshole. Like the Abbott and Costello version, this is a Jekyll who takes the drug seemingly with the idea, he won't quite admit to himself, that Hyde will dispose of his enemies. Despite a lot of scenes where Jekyll hallucinates actually having dialogue with Hyde--Hyde screams in pain at the mention of God at one point--the main difference between the two seems to be levels of cowardice. Yet we're supposed to take it as a good thing Sir Danvers wanted Jekyll to marry his daughter? Incredibly enough, I think that was the idea.
Twitter Sonnet #1106
Discarded warnings make a good return.
Imploring eyes belong to lily pads.
For sev'ral hundred years we must relearn.
The spirit's purse concedes so much for fads.
In veins of quartz a string of words descends.
The watchful rock replaced the plaster wall.
In dragon woods a lantern late ascends.
A living house contains a changing hall.
A temple sunk between tomato hills.
The sails are slack, siesta turns around.
For burning tracks and time and turning mills.
The pond conducts its power over ground.
A weathered boot conducts itself away.
There's breakfast served throughout the night and day.