Mary Reilly

05/06/2020 06:00

Film: Mary Reilly

Year: 1996

Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: Christopher Hampton

Starring: Julia Roberts, John Malkovich and George Cole



This was a film that I’m pretty sure I saw part of it in a class. For the life of me, I cannot remember if this was in high school or college. What is even more confusing for this, I don’t recall ever reading ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ or the novel that this movie is based on, which I found intriguing that Valerie Martin wrote with a different take on what Dr. Jekyll does and his experiments. To get into this review, the synopsis is a housemaid falls in love with Dr. Henry Jekyll (John Malkovich) and his darkly mysterious counterpart, Mr. Edward Hyde (Malkovich).

For much of this movie, we’re following the title character of Mary Reilly (Julia Roberts). She is a maid in the service of Dr. Jekyll who spooks her in our opening scene. She is cleaning the walk up to his laboratory. He asks if he frightens her, but she just wasn’t expecting it. I thought this was an interesting way to reveal that Mary is nervous by her nature. The movie then recounts the reasons why through interactions with Dr. Jekyll and eventually his counterpart Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll also inquires about scars that she has on her arms and neck. She doesn’t want to talk about them now, but as he gains her trust, she reveals that tale.

There’s an interesting undertone to this movie of misogyny that really came with Victorian culture. Since Mary is poor and is in service of Dr. Jekyll, the man who runs his house, Mr. Poole (George Cole) is quite strict with her. He warns her about sending her away but despite this, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are smitten with her so no matter what they say, we get the feeling that it won’t happen.

Something that I found interesting though in the development of the love from Dr. Jekyll toward Mary is that he catches her reading a book in his study. He doesn’t reveal that he did until a bit later and they’re alone. He tells her that she can read any book that fancies her, but she rebuffs this that it could look like she’s getting preferential treatment. She doesn’t want this and the movie does well in revealing why. Bradshaw (Michael Sheen) is a brash man who also works here in the house. He reveals a story about a girl who a master took a fancy to, knocked her up and then sent her away. Mrs. Kent (Kathy Staff) doesn’t like him spreading gossip, much like Mr. Poole. It is an interesting way to develop what life was like though for me.

This movie reveals some interesting depth to the characters as well. Mary is of course our main star. We learn how she got those scars I referenced earlier, which involved her father who is Michael Gambon. He was a drunkard and we also get the idea that he might have abused his daughter in other ways. Mary gives an interesting way to describe him that he was nice when he was sober, but when he started to drink, it felt like another man who was evil would come out of him. Dr. Jekyll takes an interest in this with the ‘cure’ to his ailment. He also states that maybe there was another man inside of her father, giving an interesting insight with him.

Since we know what the crux of this story is, I don’t mind kind of revealing some of this information. Mr. Hyde is the animalistic and base needs of man. What I find intriguing for this take on it is that both versions know everything that the other has done. We get some takes where Dr. Jekyll cannot remember what Mr. Hyde has done, but I like this angle for the movie. It allows him to confront Mary with difficult questions on decisions she makes as well as when she shares the stories of her past, how Mr. Hyde can use them against her.

To cap off my thoughts with the story and how it plays out, I do feel that the ‘love’ in this movie is used loosely. Mary finds Dr. Jekyll to be an agreeable boss and she takes a liking to how kind he is. I do believe that the more interest he shows in her, these feelings grow. It is much different with Mr. Hyde. She is prim and proper, God-fearing woman or as a much of someone in her plight can be. Mr. Hyde though seems to spark lust within her as he is brash and comes on pretty strong. This is fitting though that when you give into the more base feelings of human nature. It is more of the need for survival and overcome the social norms that we develop through growth in society.

I did find this movie to be a bit boring though. I think as a horror movie fan and knowing the original story this is based that is part of my problem. This movie does have an interesting take though. I like seeing it through the eyes of a servant, especially one that is lacking knowledge and the proper schooling. Seeing how a woman can change this man of science’s thoughts and feelings is something interesting to explore. I personally think that it could be trimmed to closer to an hour and half instead the almost two hours we got. I did like how the ending comes full circle to the beginning with the mirroring of shots.

The acting is really good as well. I’m not the biggest Roberts fan and I don’t really see why everyone loves her. I was talking to Jaime about this movie and she was asking if this was an early film from her. It isn’t, so my thought here was that she had mainstream success so she wanted to take on a role that would challenge her acting ability. Despite my thoughts on her, she has a really good performance here. I love that she plays this more subdued, as someone who knows their place in society and is not really turning on sex appeal. She seems like a Victorian woman who is lusted over by her master. That will take me to her co-star, Malkovich, who I’m a big fan of and I think he did an amazing job in this role. He brings a sense of arrogance that is different with both characters, but works perfectly. I thought that Cole, Gambon, Staff, Glenn Close, Michael Sheen and Ciarán Hinds all help to round this out for what was needed.

That will take me to the effects of the movie, which I thought were also pretty good. Since this is more focusing on the relationship between Mary and these two versions of the same man, we don’t get a lot. There’s an odd transformation scene that I did enjoy. I watched it twice and it is really is a different take on the change from one to the other. It fits when we see it as we get to hear it much earlier in the movie. I did have an issue as it bothers me that no one, aside from Bradshaw (Sheen) in passing says how they look similar. There’s really just dark, longer hair and no facial hair. I guess it was a simpler time, but it does feel a bit convenient. Aside from that, I did think that the setting felt real and it was shot very well, especially the few times we got the London fog.

The last thing to briefly go over would be the soundtrack and sound design of this movie. We get this really eerie scene of the first transformation where we don’t get to see it actually, just hear it. We get this crying of a baby and then an almost inhuman scream. When we get to see it actually play out, it really was creepy and I dug it. The music was fine. It didn’t really stand out though while never taking me out of the movie.

Now with that said, I did enjoy this different take on the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde story. I don’t think it is great, but this is really a more palatable version for the mainstream audience. There’s some really good social commentary here that can be delved into with humanity, misogyny and forbidden love. The acting really helps carry the movie. I thought the effects we do get are solid and the sound effects to go with them. It does run a bit long if I’m honest though, which would be one of my biggest gripes. I would rate this as above average movie in my opinion. I would also recommend this more to non-horror fans to be honest. If you’re into more romance, then horror fans give this a go.


My Rating: 7 out of 10