Jekyll Review
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It’s tough to find good DVDs to recommend for Halloween. While the horror genre has always been a training ground for inventive young directors to hone their craft and defy conventions, it’s also been filled with far many more misses than hits. For every Halloween, The Exorcist, or even Scream that comes along, there’s a host of god-awful sequels, imitations, and downright rip-offs that reinforce the idea that horror may be fun, but it’s just not really any good.

So it’s with great enthusiasm that I recommend last year’s excellent BBC miniseries, Jekyll. Though it appeared in the U.K. last June and in the U.S. on BBC America last August, with DVD sets appearing in both regions later in the year, very few people I’ve talked to in the States are even aware of it, much less have seen it.

  
 
Jekyll is exactly what it promises, yet it’s something completely different at the same time. Through six 50-minute episodes, it tells the story of Dr. Tom Jackman (James Nesbitt), a reserved Englishman with a wife and twin children and a surprise guest—an extremely vicious alter ego that has recently begun to manifest itself in episodes that Tom can’t remember. As the series opens, Tom has made an arrangement with his unnamed alternate self to share their body on a schedule, and he’s hired a psychiatric nurse to help keep tabs on his competing selves while looking for a cure. Things begin to twist almost right away, as Tom discovers that he may be the descendant of the apparently real-life Dr. Henry Jekyll, that a powerful clandestine organization has plans for him, that his life has been manipulated since infancy by some of those closest to him, and that his alter ego (though perhaps alter-id would be a better term) is gaining strength every day.

The better BBC shows all seem to have something in common—they rely less on extravagant special effects than on solid actors portraying intense characters. Nesbitt frequently nails the title role, whether slightly underplaying the fearful Tom or hamming it up as the murderous, childlike “Mr. Hyde.” Gina Bellman backs him up well, especially in the later episodes, as his beleaguered wife, Claire, a woman who also has a secret that’s buried in her past. The only disappointment is Michelle Ryan’s Dr. Reimer, the psychiatric nurse who starts off going nose-to-nose with the good doctor and his dark side, only to fade into the background as the series progresses.

Jekyll truly shines, however, in the way it continually reinforces the dread that Tom has over what he does when his other half takes over. On several notable occasions, the narrative jumps forward, leaving the viewer to wonder, as Tom does, just what possible atrocities he might be responsible for. Thankfully, the technique is not overused, as it might be in a lesser production.

It’s not the gorefest that some might seek out on Halloween, but it’s a treat for those who value tightly-constructed tales of suspense. Even when it begins to veer dangerously close to sci-fi (the producer is Steven Moffat, heir apparent to the current incarnation of Doctor Who), it tosses in another surprise or another bit of gleeful nastiness from its charismatic villain.

If you’re looking for something new this week, something a little more substantial than the usual Hollywood gorefest, try to find this buried gem at the local video store.

And remember…you never know what you’ve been doing when you thought you were only asleep.

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