ITV’s big Autumn Sunday Tea-Time “Family” (more of that later) show was unveiled this week, a ten parter loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson story and written by Charlie Higson (author of the Young James Bond novels and who “Time Out” once fabulously described as “the missing link between Dick Emery and Brett Easton Ellis”. It is aiming explicitly for the “Dr Who” audience. It got me to the screen and I’ve hardly watched “Dr Who” since Jon Pertwee days (“Torchwood”, however, was a different matter). This show exploded into our living rooms attracting considerable controversy. To date there have been apparently 800+ complaints about it being too scarey for an early evening audience and Ofcom are about to carry out an investigation to see if ITV, in showing it at 6.30pm breached broadcasting guidelines. (I still don’t get all this… How come Sky Living can repeat old episodes of “Criminal Minds” which can scare the bejesus out of me on weekday afternoons without attracting this outrage?).
Anyway, unless judgements on this programme become too clouded by the protests I’ll say straight off this was a powerful, gripping, fast-moving (and okay…) scarey first episode. From the opening pre-credit sequence we were plunged into the dingy streets of London in 1885 and had the shock of Mr Hyde bearing his fangs at us, which had I watched it at Sunday tea-time when it was broadcast would have put me off my crumpets. This Hyde was a descendant of our main Dr Jekyll played by Tom Bateman (Da Vinci’s Demons). He was much less terrifying. When aroused his face shuddered in an angry twitch and following the highly dramatic transformation mid-way through the episode the Mr Hyde character he metamorphosed into was Jekyll with more mussed-up hair and a healthy application of guy-liner (and a tendency to over-egg the acting performance, although I am sure this will calm down in time).
The story moved quickly. One moment we were in a highly colourful 1930’s Ceylon with Jekyll coming to the rescue of an injured girl, (fighting the temptation of Hyde coming through to crush the life out of her with a foot in her windpipe – now, that was disturbing), then we were hurtling back to London for a meeting with a law firm dealing with the family he never knew he had’s estate.
In London things got very dark with a sequence which would have elicited the most complaints. Hit-men in elephantine gas masks came face to face with a Harbinger (head of a man, body of a not-quite sure what, dog? Four-legged chicken?). Jekyll arrived to a bit of love interest and a lively fight scene. The doctor’s essential medication was stolen, shape shifters identified themselves all before Hyde took over and ended up in a seedy (but sizeable) bar helmed by Natalie Gumede (“Strictly Come Dancing and unforgiveable Tyrone-basher in “Coronation St”) channelling her inner Peggy “Get ahht out of my pub!” Mitchell and leading us with the suggestion that Jekyll might very well end up with two women on the go – one for Hyde days and holidays!
I thought visually the whole thing was stunning. It was well paced and was keen to tell a story right from the outset. Was it too much for a family audience? I think there’s a clue in the title- surely families sitting down to it would know there was an intention to scare and it did do what is said on the tin. Charlie Higson was moved to apologise to Stuart Maconie on his Radio 6 show for giving the nation nightmares but very rightly says;
‘I’m sorry that anyone got upset by it. It wasn’t my intention to upset people … it was my intention for it to be scary – it’s a scary show.
‘I was expecting more people to complain that it wasn’t scary enough, rather than people saying, “This is a scary show and I found it scary” … that’s slightly the point.’
Exactly! ITV has moved the show on half an hour (although say it was their intention to do so). As by a few minutes into the programme I knew I would want to review this I haven’t seen any other opinions so do not know if I am out of line in championing this but I’ll be certainly there for Episode 2. For me, watching it without youngsters or those of a nervous disposition, this was great Sunday night entertainment and gave a surge of adrenalin which the “Antiques Roadshow”/ “Downton Abbey” combo couldn’t sap. Well done ITV.
“Jekyll And Hyde” is shown on Sundays on ITV. The first episode is available on ITV player, the second is on Sunday 1st Nov at 7.00