Jekyll’s maidservant in print and in film, plus pirates!

MARY REILLY by Valerie Martin nominally tells the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the POV of Dr. Jekyll’s eponymous housemaid (not a character from the novel), a child of abuse who finds her master’s new friend Edward Hyde unpleasantly like her father. While Martin writes well, this didn’t work for me at all, being 70-80 percent the story of an ordinary Victorian housemaid with Stevenson’s story only gradually playing a role. I also have trouble with her being such a happy domestic, one who can’t think of any life more desirable than being in domestic service.

MARY REILLY (1996) works much better as Jekyll and Hyde (Jon Malkovich) play a larger role in the story. As in Martin’s book, we start with Jekyll taking an interest in those bruises on his maid’s arm, then she notices strange goings-on late at night, then she meets Mr. Hyde and find herself both uneasy and oddly intrigued. The supporting cast includes Michael Gambon as Mary’s father and Glenn Close as a madam (“My answer is always yes.”).

My friend Ross argues that Mary and the madam provide the same good girl/bad girl dichotomy I’ve seen in multiple adaptations; it’s an interesting thought though I’m not sure I entirely agree (if I pitch the Jekyll and Hyde book and forge ahead, I’ll have to think about it more). Overall enjoyable, though not classic; Roberts’ accent fluctuates and Malkovich seems much stronger as Hyde than Jekyll. “He came out of the night like he was a part of it.”

THE BLACK SWAN (1942) adapts Rafael Sabatini’s novel of a swaggering pirate (Tyrone Power) who helps Henry Morgan (Laird Creegar) hunt down George Sanders for refusing to go legit, while Powers also aggressively pursues elegant lady Maureen O’Hara. I’d always heard good things about this and it is fun — Creegar has a great role as Morgan — but Power’s American accent is distracting (nobody else has one) and his pursuit of O’Hara is way too aggressive (“When a woman in Tortuga slaps a man’s face, she wants him to grab her and smother her with kisses.”) by today’s standards. “You’ll be a dead man if you’re fooling me and a rich man if you ain’t.”

Stock footage from that film padded out ANNE OF THE INDIES (1951) starring Jean Peters as a Blackbeard protege who recruits French privateer Louis Jourdan to her crew for reasons more to do with his pretty face than his naval skills. Then she discovers he’s not only an undercover agent working to take her down, he’s already married (Debra Paget). Peters isn’t right for this cutthroat role; more annoyingly, while I can accept her going soft and sparing the lovers at the climax, I can’t swallow Anne sacrificing herself and her crew to save their lives (The Bad Girl Dies was a trope long before Bury Your Gays). “I am his wife — think on that and let it eat into your soul, if you have one.

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Filed under Movies, Reading

2 responses to “Jekyll’s maidservant in print and in film, plus pirates!

  1. Pingback: Bad, bad, bad, bad girls, they make me feel so … uncomfortable? | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Everybody was kung fu fighting. Except the pirates. And the women talking. | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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