by Catriona Mills

Jekyll

Posted 2 March 2008 in by Catriona

Oooh, I’ve been looking forward to this.

Whenever I teach Gothic Literature, which is not nearly often enough, there are always three novels that the students feel they should know, even though they’ve rarely read them: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. We rarely read Frankenstein any more, but they’re always surprised by the other two.

I’m not sure why, but these must be among the most, if not the most, frequently adapted nineteenth-century novels. And they’ve never been adapted accurately.

The adaptations usually have some positive features. I quite liked, for example, the way in which Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Dracula caught much of the spirit of progress that marked the novel: the dependency on new technologies that gave the middle-class English professionals—and of course Quincy, the representative of American progress—such an advantage over the distinctly Old World Count. But the need to give the Count a tragic love story robbed the figure of much of his viciousness and made, in my opinion, a much less creepy tale of the whole narrative.

And I’m not even going to mention the recent BBC telemovie.

Jekyll and Hyde hasn’t been treated much better.

But this isn’t an adaptation. And that’s the first thing in its favour. Because this is an entirely new way of approaching a story that everyone feels they already know—and, really, they do, so thoroughly saturated are we in this narrative.

The other reason I was so excited about this so far in advance is Steven Moffat.

As far as I’m concerned, Steven Moffat can do no wrong. I was exactly the right age (and, frankly, the right kind of girly swot) to become totally besotted with Press Gang, which was essentially a how-to on writing tight, high-quality drama that didn’t patronise its audience.

Then there was Coupling. And the new series of Doctor Who, for which he gave slightly tremulous fans of the original series four brilliant episodes in the first three seasons.

Oh, yes, the idea of Steven Moffat made me particularly interested in watching this.

And it’s good. I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to get to that point. But it is good.

The idea of time-sharing and scheduled versus unscheduled changes is both a fascinating one and an intensely modern way to approach suddenly finding that you have two completely separate people living in the one body.

For that matter, the use of technology to allow each to track the behaviour of the other is both modern and, at the same time, faithful to the obsessions of the late Victorian Gothic novel, stemming back to the sensation novels—particularly Wilkie Collins—that helped keep Gothic literature alive in a mid-Victorian England obsessed with realism in its fiction.

Ditto, the use of the cityscape, which worked so well in the relatively contemporaneous Invisible Man: the idea that one man can easily become lost among London’s teeming millions, the anonymity, the dark alleyways.

I like the idea of the change coming late in life, as well; it not only recalls Henry Jekyll’s own mid-life crisis, but has, to me, shades of a disease such as Huntington’s Chorea—the idea of a debilitating, degenerative disorder arising late, once you’d already had children and, possibly, doomed them, too.

Speaking of children, can I mention how much I love that the twins are called Eddie and Harry?

And, finally, Denis Lawson. Ah, Wedge: you survived the Ice Battle on Hoth and the destruction of both Death Stars. Is there anything you can’t do?

Share your thoughts [2]

1

Tim wrote at Mar 3, 10:02 AM

I missed the beginning (watching the cricket); was there any explanation for why he gets superhuman powers? Colour me underimpressed.

2

Catriona wrote at Mar 3, 11:13 AM

Not as such. There are unanswered questions about his relationship to Dr Henry Jekyll and the role of an American multi-national.

It’s intriguing me.

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