Although MARY REILLY is being billed as a remake of the Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde story, I believe it is actually a remake of MY FAIR LADY.
Off screen we have the director (Stephen Frears) playing the Professor
Higgins role and the producers (Norma Heyman, Nancy Graham Tanen, and
Ned Tanen) playing Colonel Pickering. I can easily imagine Professor
Higgins bolding proclaiming that he could take a famous story full of
action and imagination, populate it with megastars, turn it into a
colossal bore and yet so stun the audience with his audacity that no
one would leave. Everyone would know the story and the stars so they
would wait until the last moment to realize that he had transformed a
prince of a movie into a guttersnipe and that nothing of interest was
ever going to happen in the film. As the audience leaves dazed and
bewildered, Colonel Pickering must have been singing, "You've done it,
you've done it, I can't believe you've done it."
The MARY REILLY on the screen is a remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde told from the view of a maid named Mary Reilly (Julia Roberts).
The brilliant actor John Malkovich is Dr. Jekyll as well as his alter
ego Mr. Hyde. The only other important part in the movie is Glenn
Close badly miscast as the madam of the local bordello where Mr. Hyde
gets into trouble. The movie starts off promisingly enough with
realistic gas and candle lit photography (Philippe Rousselot). This,
however, rapidly degenerates into a movie so dark and with such low
contrast that your eyes, when you can keep them awake, will literally
hurt from squinting so much trying to make out the action, or usually
lack thereof, on the screen. The movie is filmed in Edinburgh, but it
is so dark, you'd never know it.
At the thirty minute point, almost nothing had happened save an
ineffective flashback to an abusive period in Mary's childhood. Most
of the time, during this and all parts of the movie, is devoted to
atmospheric scenes of one cast member or another slowly walking through
rooms where little happens. It is hard to believe that this movie
shares the same lineage with the numerous other Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The screenwriter (Christopher Hampton) is at a loss at how to
engage the audience. In a failed attempt to solve this problem he
comes up with lots of gratuitous violence and major amounts of human
and animal blood. In a typical scene, there is a disemboweled rat
laying on a bed in a room with blood splattered everywhere. In
another, we have a medical operation complete with hacksaw. Actually,
my distaste for the movie comes not from disliking these scenes, but
from being put to sleep by the boredom of the show.
In the more minor complain department, when Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr.
Hyde, I did not buy his short curly hair getting longer and straight
and his goatee disappearing, and I certainly did not buy the
transformation scene lifted straight out of ALIEN. For some reason Dr.
Jekyll looks a lot like Ethan Hawke in BEFORE SUNRISE. In Christopher
Hampton's MARY REILLY, Dr. Jekyll is a meek and melancholic man, and
Mr. Hyde is a handsome and self-assured playboy. Sure. The sparse
sets (Stuart Craig) provided nothing of visual interest to engage the
The acting by the three great stars is an embarrassment. Glenn
Close has no idea of what to do with her role and plays it like a
stone. Julia Roberts seems to think that so long as she is made up to
appear unattractive, and she grimaces a lot, she has achieved great
art. Last, and certainly least, is John Malkovich's disappointing
performance. I would list him close to the top of the best actors
working today. In good shows and bad, I have been nothing less than in
awe of his work until now. Somehow, Professor Higgins, I mean Stephen
Frears manages to get an uninteresting performance out of Malkovich.
This is a miracle I did not think possible.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes