Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic classic returns to its ancestral Edinburgh origins, in Hope Dickson Leach’s innovative, theatrical retelling of ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. It just feels right for the story to be set in Edinburgh – the original schizophrenic city, with its wealthy New Town, and mazy, sinful Old Town. The city of scoundrels and justified sinners.
Originally staged at Leith Theatre, Dickson Leach’s adaptation is a unique take on the classic tale. A hybrid of theatre and cinema; as well as the main set, there was a screen mounted behind the stage. Within the corridors and basements of the theatre, they built other sets which had camera crews in them waiting for the actors, whilst the director would vision mix it live on the night.
When it finished its theatrical run, it began the process of being reconfigured for the big and small screen. Additional location shots were filmed, new music was composed, a stunning sound mix was done, and the best takes from the live performances were edited into a film which made its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this week, before it moves to Sky Arts later in the year.
As with the novella, the main character of this latest version is modest lawyer Gabriel Utterson (Lorn Macdonald), a close friend of Dr Henry Jekyll (Henry Pettigrew). Concerned by Jekyll’s recent behaviour, Utterson becomes consumed with learning the identity of the mysterious and brutish Mr Hyde, whom Jekyll has made the sole beneficiary in his will.
An intriguing new twist however, sees Utterson’s social status elevated as he gets closer to the truth. His association with the renowned Dr Jekyll puts him in the orbit of the repulsive Sir Danvers Carew (David Hayman), a brewery owner whose inhumanity towards his workers sadly rubs off on Utterson. As he hunts for a monster, he finds he is becoming a monster himself.
As a commentary on social class structures and the ruling elite, it does certainly have a stinging relevance to life in Britain in 2023. This does however put Jekyll and Hyde somewhat in the periphery. Which is a shame, because when Dickson Leach leans fully into the horror aspect, it is genuinely quite scary. The thundering sound design, and slick editing result in a couple of meaty jump scares.
The theatrical setting certainly has its limitations, and we can see where the same sets have been repurposed, but it’s only a minor distraction. Overall, it’s a very well choreographed piece of work, making excellent use of iconic Edinburgh locations to add to the gothic vibe of the film. The sharp black and white photography, along with the theatrical sets lends an almost German expressionist feel to some of the scenes. I found it to be quite haunting.