Is it necessary for our well being to commit rape and murder? The vast majority of us would say no but Henry Jekyll takes it as read in the extraordinary 1980 BBC adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
. With a great performance by David Hemmings in the title role and several wonderful supporting performances--including Diana Dors and Clive Swift--this adaptation's perspective on sex and society clearly and cleverly reflects the punk groundswell of its day.
It begins with Jekyll seemingly addressing us directly before we realise he's recording a monograph. He puts forth the familiar theory about human beings being composed of a good and evil duality but then he directly says, "If the twin sides of my nature could be separated then the unjust could go its own way without disgracing its more upright twin." What? So the idea isn't to get rid of evil so much as to make sure he can have his evil cake and eat it too. It brings the concept a little closer to Dorian Gray at heart--goodness is imputed to be an entirely superficial thing even by the most virtuous. So ingrained is the concept of an abstract morality governing all things that characters in this story don't even consider that it could be related to real actions or conditions. Jekyll figures he's going to be under the evil column anyway for the impossible to anticipate shifting goal post of "good" so he may as well see himself as a murderer.
This is the first one I've seen to directly connect this with Protestantism. When Utterson (Ian Bannen) speculates that Henry has some past sin or disgrace haunting him, Lanyon (Clive Swift) dismissively replies, "There speaks the voice of John Calvin."
I'm always happy to see Diana Dors, one of my favourite actresses, and I knew without having to look she'd be playing the brothel madam. We meet her ensconced behind a beautiful elevated desk like a judge. An appropriate impression because this version amusingly portrays Jekyll as a regular visitor already--he pays to have prostitutes beat him. Presumably for Original Naughtiness.
Jekyll and Hyde both talk about how the moral duality also might exist in women and this is reflected in Jekyll's fiancee, Ann Coggeshall (Lisa Harrow), who unlike the ciphers of earlier versions seems like a very good match for Henry. She's shocked by the suggestion of improprieties but also leads the men on one of the sadly enduring displays of Victorian hypocrisy, the slum tour.
This version combines the Suave Hyde with the Wolfman Hyde. Hemmings gets heavily made up as Jekyll so he can look younger and more handsome as Hyde but in the transition sequences, and when things start to go wrong, he gets more hair and weird teeth.
As in the novella, there's absolutely nothing to suggest that there's anything but a cosmetic difference between Jekyll and Hyde, Hyde merely representing Jekyll under the cloak of anonymity and, in this case, with better looks and a charm that comes with self-confidence and ease of manner. So his insistent belief that he has become two separate people seems especially mad, just as unvarnished as Boris Karloff's version in the Abbott and Costello movie but much more disturbing in this context.
This is a Hyde who preys on children, too, in ways much worse than trampling them. He takes one twelve or thirteen year old girl back to her hovel where she regularly sells her body, talks to her in a broad, amiable manner like a TV presenter before cheerfully telling her to undress. I had to wonder, were the makers of this film trying to say something about Jimmy Savile? In any case, they manage to say something much bigger about society with the casual revelation that Hyde is far from the first to abuse her in this way.
Another of Hyde's victims is Jekyll's housemaid played by Toyah Willcox with a nice, understated simmer. She can't read and Hyde tricks her into taking mescal--which is also a component of his potion in this film. Someone who commented on one of my earlier reviews, Evan S Ent, told me that the formula for mescaline is written on Jekyll's chalkboard in this version, which would explain why the first transformation sequence has the inverted colours and other camera effects associated with drug trips in other films. I suppose it's possible the whole film after that first dose is one long hallucination. I'd hope so, for a lot of people's sakes. Twitter Sonnet #1107A silver shadow traced a fabric bird.
A stencilled night behind the curtain sleeps.
The paint not dry the morning reads the word.
A nodding bowler boards the train it keeps.
The early metal pings for walking phones.
Across a marble street the blind've blinked.
Betimes the shuffling egg could make the bones.
Preserve a brain of grapes beneath the rink.
The ancient face remakes the new to back.
A timely flame appeared a cent'ry gone.
As punching cards dissolve to painted wrack.
A pigment gave a sun to canvas dawn.
A shiny mustard bullion fills the hold.
The endless columns do resemble gold.