Sunday, 7 September 2014

Two Minds For All Seasons.

It says something for the enduring impact and influence of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mister Hyde that people continue to use the phrase " a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character " with such knowing casuality despite probably never having read the book. Admittedly it has been adapted and even updated on so many occasions on the cinema screen and on the more intimate television screen the central character, or central characters, have become as familiar to all as Dracula or the Frankenstein Monster. But then many people drop terms such as "Freudian" or "Schizophrenic" without ever having turned a page in a psychology book. We maybe absorb a vague understanding of these words general meaning and use without really foundation. The verbal equivalent of throwing carrots at a dartboard and expecting them to stick. With few exceptions root vegetables make poor darts.
           There is a lovely double bill dvd with two movie adaptions of the novel. One from 1931 starring Frederic Marsh and another from 1941 with Spenser Tracy in the lead roles. The Tracy one I remembered from a Saturday Night Horror Double bill many many moons ago. The other was a new experience for me. A new experience from 1931. I turned this viewing into a trilogy of adaptions by rewatching the television mini-series Jekyll updated by none other than Mister Timey Whimey Stephen Moffat. The lead role, or is that roles, taken by none other than the Northern Irish actor James Nesbitt who cranks up his inner bonkers and delivers a performance that is as sympathetic as it is disturbing. Nesbitt/Moffat's Hyde is a beast who revels in his time. A man who will wrestle a lion just to see if he can. I am suprised this show did not do for Stevenson what Sherlock has done for Conan Doyle. Watch Mark Gatiss masterful turn in it as Robert Louis Stevenson himself in a time slipping sequence that pre-empts other more recent crowd pleasing and show storming moments in both Doctor Who and Sherlock.
               My favorite though of these three versions is the one from 1931; with Frederic Marsh doing the two hander. It is off course a little stilted given the period in which it was created but it must also have been quite shocking for a mannered and less worldly audience. Marsh is quite a handsome gentleman, one who also has an aura of decency and integrity. Yet his hyde is also a mad fiend, an appetite unleashed, his wickedness cruel and directed. The two performances are utterly seperate, there is nothing of the macabre Hyde in Marsh's Jekyll. the two sides of this one man look and sound and move differently from each other. The first night Hyde steps out of the shadows of Jekyll's restraining Id is a joy to watch. He revels in his time abroad, throwing back his head in  a rainstorm to drink in what the heavens dump down on him. If you enjoyed the shot of Heath Ledger's Joker sticking his head out the window of a stolen police car after a long night of anarchy and murder, you will understand this moment. Marsh's Hyde is both comic and hideous by turn as he torments and tramples over the very things his black heart desires.
                 The first draft of Jekyll's story is one of the great lost books of literature. During a spell of illness Stevenson finished it, lapsed into a feverish sickly sleep, during which his wife first read then burnt that copy. So appalled was she by its contents and fearing for their moral standing should the book see print. Stevenson wrote the draft the world has come to know from the freah memory of its creation.
                 I wonder if anything was lost.
                 The existing version will never be lost, with richer variations and adaptions in other mediums to keep it alive and sustain its vitalness. Weither that be the monstrous invisible and unstoppable creatures of the Id brought to life by the super technology of the Krell in Forbidden Planet or the anti-matter aliens of another universe crossing over on Zeta-minor in Doctor Who The Planet Of Evil it is capable of  endless interptretation.
                  The duality of man's nature and our fascination with our own dark side will see to that.
                  Lets face it; if Hyde were alive today he would have his own reality television series;
                  Living The Hyde Life.