I went to the press screening for this with absolutely no knowledge of this programme save the title. I like it that way, entering with no preconceived thoughts. I say that, but I definitely had the preconception that I was going to watch another rehash of an old property. It might be good but hadn’t we seen it before?
It was introduced by ITV’s director of drama, Steve November, (and yes with a name like that he should be saving the world on a regular basis) with much excitement as ITV’s new tea time drama with a touch of darkness. So already we have the impression that it’s setting itself up against Dr Who and replacing the likes of Merlin.
The show opens as expected in London of the 1880’s but by the time the opening credits are done we are catapulted decades forward into 1930’s Ceylon, where we are introduced to the newly qualified Dr Robert Jekyll (Tom Bateman), the Grandson of the original man to bear both the titular names.
An ‘incident’ occurs which sets everything in motion and is so brilliantly played by Bateman that I was practically fully on board from that moment.
Jekyll has been living with his adopted family quite ignorant of his familial heritage and the episode follows his journey to England to discover more.
As the true nature of his dilemna becomes more apparent Jekyll manages to draw some allies to himself, such as world weary eastender Garson, played stoically by the idosyncratic Donald Sumpter, and good time girl Belle (Natalie Gumede). A potential love interest, Lily is played with a legato sophistication by Stephanie Hyam but I suspect there is more to her than meets the eye. The last of his allies are Max Utterson and Hilary Barnstaple (Christian McKay and Ruby Bentall) as the hilariously British lawyers that alert Jekyll to his inheritance.
As is the nature of these things Robert is bound to have enemies and these manifest as two different secret organisations. The evil Tenebrae led by the chilling Captain Dance (Enzo Clienti) and and the Government sanctioned MI0 led by the ruthless Bulstrode (Richard E Grant). As to wether the good guys are any better than the bad guys remains to be seen. In fact the first encounter with MI0 has some truly chilling imagery.
The plot clips along at a nice pace with the world building firmly ensconced in the storytelling. All is not revealed however and it’s obvious that there are more revelations to come. In fact if ITV release a season trailer, then I would urge you to not watch it, it revealed far more than I wanted to know. That is a mark of how much I enjoyed this show as I wanted to discover these things as the show progressed rather than be given the non too subtle hints that the trailer provided.
Writer Charlie Higson, admitted that he had never read the book when he pitched the show and realised he had better go and read the source material when it was accepted. His inner fan boy came out when he stated that he was trying to recreate a lot of 60’s adventure shows, such as, The Avengers, The Champions, Adam Adamant and more. In fact, his constant references to Indiana Jones also showed one of the bigger influences that he was bringing to bear on the show.
Full credit has to go to Tom Bateman though whose sliding scale of madness is played with style. His Jekyll is endearing, naive and heart warming, his Heath Ledger-esque Hyde is monstrously sexy rather than monstrously monstrous like his ancestor; but it is when he is sliding along the scale neither truly one nor the other that he becomes his most enthralling. Bateman himself said that “although on first look Hyde seems like more fun – the lines and the stunts” he thinks most of the drama comes from Jekyll,”You have to care abut Jekyll.”
The only thing I didn’t like was that the direction, even down to the music, tended to focus a bit on the melodramatic. At one point, taking into account the camera angle and the musical crescendo, I couldn’t help but sigh and think “yes, I know you’re a villain”. I’m hoping that these unnecessary flourishes will calm down as the series settles into it’s grove.
I did question the placement of this show. Although it’s billed as a kid show, there were parts of it which were both creepy and terrifying and not something I would label as a teatime show. The mood in the room at the post showing press conference seemed to reflect this. I’m thinking the introduction of weekly ‘monsters’,may stabilise it’s targeted age range somewhat. Higson was unrepentant claiming that “kids will be happy as they love all that stuff”. He asserted that, “kids literature is pretty strong these days”, and made the observation that “scaring children in a safe fantasy world was good as it was where they learnt how to deal with fear”. But as a matter of reassurance he asserted that there would be no squirting blood or torn body parts!
Jekyll and Hyde has more than a little of the superhero about it and my thoughts were constantly brought back to The Incredible Hulk while watching it, which is probably unavoidable given the subject matter, although it does not feel derisive at all. While there are notes that can be improved, the first episode was exciting with a rich cast and filled me with hope for the series. It felt like, on ITV, at least, Pulp adventuring was well and truly back.
If you want to see a snippet of a fight scene with Hyde that took 3 days to film, you can see it below. There are no spoilers except the disappointment of not seeing it in context. So watch at your own risk.
Jekyll and Hyde will air on ITV on the 25th October 2015 at 6.30pm and will run for 10 episodes.