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24 September 2014
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Fenella Woolgar and James Nesbitt in Jekyll


Production notes

The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde was a novella written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, first published in 1886.


The story is told from the point of view of a London lawyer, John Utterson, who investigates the increasingly odd behaviour of his old friend, the brilliant scientist Dr Henry Jekyll. After relating a disturbing tale of an angry fiend assaulting a small girl, Utterson uncovers a horrific and terrifying truth.


The book was an immediate success and one of Stevenson's best-selling works. Stage adaptations began in Boston and London within a few months, and it has gone on to inspire scores of major film and stage performances and countless references in popular culture. The phrase "Jekyll and Hyde" has become shorthand to mean wild, controversial and polar behaviour, or schizophrenia.


In more than 100 film versions, Jekyll has been played by such stars as John Barrymore in a 1920 silent version; Frederic March, who won an Academy Award for his deft portrayal in 1931; Spencer Tracy (1941); Jack Palance (1968); David Hemmings (1981); Anthony Perkins (1989); Laura Dern and Anthony Andrews in the dual role (1989); Michael Caine (1990) and John Malkovich in Mary Reilly (1996).


Writer Steven Moffat


Steven Moffat explains that he has always loved the story of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde: "The very first thing I wrote as a child was a very bad adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's book. It's one of those stories that keeps getting told.


"Like Sherlock Holmes and Dracula and Tarzan and Robin Hood, Jekyll and Hyde are more than great characters, they're words in the English language – they've escaped from the page into our nightmares, our jokes, our headlines, our playgrounds, and – every few years – our cinemas and televisions.


"The biggest compliment you can pay Stevenson is that practically everyone alive knows his story even though they've probably never bothered to read it.


"But if a story can be seen down the years as an adventure yarn, a love story, a horror movie, a sex-change comedy (Dr Jekyll And Sister Hyde – check it out!) and a tale of mid-life crisis, then I'm guessing it's got something for everyone. But maybe not always the same thing."


So, if there have been so many versions of the story over the years, why make another? Steven clearly relished the challenge, as he explains:


"It's a story we all think we know, one that has survived so much better as a metaphor for the way we live rather than as an original narrative. There's potential to go in so many different directions with the tale; it's such a rich and strong idea."


He continues: "So here we go again! Another Jekyll and Hyde! The doctor and his dark side are back! What's new this time? Everything! Literally, actually new. For the first time the setting is modern day – no fog, no cobblestones, we're in London 2007. Dr Tom Jackman is a new man with an old problem.


"But if this story speaks to everyone with a dark side (or to summarise – everyone) why set it back then – something that happens to those distant other people in old murky photographs. Why not make it here and now? Why not make it a modern man in modern London? Why not have a helicopter in episode 5?"


He continues: "The story of Jekyll & Hyde was a shocking idea when it came out in 1886 as it wasn't a period piece, with people in frock coats and period actors with excellent teeth; it was set in the modern day and was shocking in that this respectable man had this terrible dark side.


"It's safe, it's in the distance if you make it a period piece – make it modern and it's unsettling again. Instead of a tale of naughty Victorian hypocrisy in London of long ago, why not make it about all the horrors slinking around the dark side of your mind right now?"


And, in a major difference from the original, Steven explains that whilst Stevenson's Hyde was the ugly one, a hairy Neanderthal, the modern Hyde is more attractive than Jekyll:


"One of the most important things is that our Hyde is not the wolf-man. This is about a different man, not a different face. Ninety per cent of our Jekyll and Hyde distinction is about performance – our Hyde acts different, rather than looks different. It's a story of subtly different men.


"Victorian evil is fanged and monstrous and different from us. Modern evil is seductive and attractive and looks pretty much exactly like us. How the bad guys have learned to deceive us! This is a modern Dr Jekyll, using modern technology to contain his dark side; Mr Hyde is a modern take on evil – seductive and funny rather than twisted and monstrous."


He adds: "One of the perils of this show is the possibility of people being slightly disappointed the first time Hyde turns round as his make-up is minimal – not a big deal at all. There's no fangs, no wild hair, no Halloween mask; our Hyde is just a marginally better looking version of Jimmy Nesbitt.


"In fact if you saw him in a slightly darkened room, you wouldn't know which one he was – until he started talking to you. It's rather like the good and the bad twin, refusing to admit that they look similar."


In writing his version of Jekyll, Steven was determined to dispose of all the baggage of the numerous film versions of Jekyll & Hyde:


"Spencer Tracy is brilliant as Dr Jekyll but becomes panto when he turns into Mr Hyde. In a lot of the old films you wondered why anyone talked to Hyde as he was such a monster – our Hyde is Jimmy Nesbitt with a couple of years taken off him really."


How has this been achieved? "The shape of the ears and nose, the hairline, the black contact lenses – and this is especially clear when he does the big grin. There is a feral side of Hyde which is fangs and a ramping effect, the roar of a lion and it's always a tiny thing – very, very quick. You never really see the shot."


So with minimal make-up change, performance is everything: "Hyde is hugely entertaining, beguiling, charming – and child-like. He does what he feels, exactly like a child. He comes across as evil, but any powerful child could be evil too.


"If you gave a child that level of power, they'd be absolutely monstrous. He does what entertains him; he's like a predator in that he won't harm you if you don't antagonise him."


The private detective Miranda, played by Meera Syal, sums up Mr Hyde very well in the first episode: "Dr Jackman, I think you assume that your other half is a manifestation of your dark side. I don't think you're right. He's a child. Albeit a child with the body and the drives of a fully grown adult.


"A rutting carnivore untarnished by civilisation. He has extraordinary strength and speed. He has stamina far beyond the norm. And he's brand new. How often, in this world, does the sun rise on something completely new, and how often do we mistake the miracle for a monster?"


Steven continues: "Hyde has very simple ambitions. He does do some dreadful things in the series and can be very violent when he wants to be but he's not out to conquer the world, he's not out to kill people.


"He just wants to have tremendous fun, to booze and shag. He's also very strong and extremely bright, but he has absolutely no remorse or conscience at all, none of those learned attributes – no feeling of empathy or sympathy with another human being."


Tom Jackman, by contrast, does have a strong moral conscience, and is trying to protect his family from his dark side by keeping it completely hidden from them:


"In many respects Tom is the only person in the script who isn't beguiled by Hyde. He's also perpetually insistent that Hyde's not part of him; he's standing back from him, resents any resemblance and has no time for Hyde."


He continues: "Jackman is what you might expect in a modern-day Jekyll; he's very repressed, sober, disciplined, organised and very strong.


"If you knew him socially and did not know about the terrible secrets in his life, you would probably find him a bit dull. He's all about duty and perseverance, he's focused on being a decent family man. But Hyde is lurking somewhere inside him.


"And Hyde almost isn't a character at the beginning but an explosion of repression. He's the opposite of decency, placed in situations where indulging his appetite isn't going to be enough for his survival. It's his sense of purpose that allows them to survive."


Why isn't Jackman called Jekyll in this series? "Everyone has heard of Jekyll & Hyde. We couldn't call him Jekyll or he would have seemed a bit thick, not knowing what was happening when he turned into Hyde."


Of course, this is also a love story, and it is the effect all this is having on Tom's wife Claire and their young sons that most hurts Jackman. Some six months before our story begins Jackman was content and doing well – a successful, well-paid scientist happily married, with a beautiful house, healthy twin boys; until Hyde started to emerge.


Jackman reacts by rejecting his family – he doesn't initially tell his wife, played by Gina Bellman, why he has moved out, which means she is forced to hire a private detective to explain the sudden change. Her idyllic existence is shattered:


"But when Claire finds out the truth, she refuses to call him anything but Tom, and I think that's right. She still sees him as the same man and in the end he is the same man twice. I think of him as a magnificent predator, like a lion, and you can't judge lions by human standards because they are acting on instinct and the need to survive, and so is Hyde."


The character of Katherine Reimer, played by Michelle Ryan, is the only person Tom initially takes into his confidence: "As the series opens Katherine is the only person other than Dr Jackman who knows about the secret double life and has the job of helping him lead it. At least she can point Tom in the direction of the aspirin!"


Steven laughs: "If you happen to be Mr Hyde and you're a hard-boozing bastard, it's bad luck to be Jackman, who wakes up with all the hangovers!"


The relationship with his very attractive young assistant does have its complications: "As Hyde's appearances become less predictable, a sort of weird little triangle is set up.


"It's not played up much, but Claire has a sneaky preference for Hyde whereas Katherine definitely prefers Jackman – there's a moment when she accidentally reveals to Claire that she thinks Jackman is the sexy one, making Claire feel guilty that she doesn't agree.


"Jackman is full of duty and devotion, all those things women think they want from a man whilst Hyde is the absolute bastard that they actually prefer! If she can really get this right, she can have both – husband and lover in one."


Steven adds: "There you have it; two different, great sexy archetypes of men – one's sort of repressed and smouldering and full of duty and right and proper and will always be decent and kind and absolutely always there for you but full of hidden depths – and then the other who's Jack Nicholson on a coke bender, tremendously good fun and a complete bastard and if he loves you, you must be great because he's so horrible!"


He adds: "The series could easily be described as a terrifying exploration of a dual personality, but really it's a kind of adventure. It would be quite cool if now and then you turned into Mr Hyde and had secret super powers. Quite often we play the trick of people bullying Tom so we can just sit there and go 'oh boy, you have so picked the wrong guy,' which is always great fun."


Humour – usually of the black variety – is very important in the series, something you might not expect in Jekyll & Hyde, as Steven acknowledges:


"Hyde is frequently funny, and that's the most frightening thing. He's surrounded by guns and lions and camps it up and has a laugh which says 'powerful' in a way menacing doesn't. He acts on instinct and is completely unpredictable."


Steven concludes: "Forget everything you know about James Nesbitt. Forget everything you know about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. One of the oldest and best stories ever told is about to begin again. It's London 2007. It's today. And an ancient monster, one that has terrified and thrilled and titillated the world for over a hundred years, is preparing to return... "


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