What is Necessary for a Jekyll and Hyde Adaptation?



The poster for the BBC Show Jekyll. Depicting the lead actor James Nesbitt

 When one inquires about Steven Moffat’s television drama Jekyll it would seem intuitive to believe that Moffat gained his inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. However as it is often seen in television and film adaptations of literary work, liberty is taken by the writers and directors to create a product that they believe would be well received and of their own. Moffat did this by creating a 21st century take on the story embracing modern circumstances and issues. But influence from the original text can seen is several aspects of the show besides the title. Specifically the characterization, plot development and thematic elements shown in “Episode One” can be directly connected to Stevenson’s work.

 Tom Jackman the protagonist in Jekyll embodies several character traits of Dr Jekyll. Both men are shown to be respectful looking, with no sign of having hate or malice in their personality. Stevenson describes Jekyll as having “every mark of capacity and kindness” (Stevenson 1788). Jackman displays the same attitude towards his assistant Katherine Reimer. He seems truly concerned for her safety and well-being while he is her employer. Taking particular steps to protect her from the dangers that could come from his transformation.

The men are also concerned about their reputations. Dr Jekyll writes in his concluding letter that he had to “conceal his pleasures” and that his reason for looking into the creation of Hyde was to express his darker and inappropriate side without condemning the reputation he was forced into upholding (Stevenson 1809). Jackman is concerned about concealing his change altogether. Unlike Dr Jekyll, Jackman’s change was an involuntary action from the start, thus he is trying to save his reputation as a father, husband and respectable human being. He goes to the extent of sacrificing his job and marriage to seek out a cure to his condition. Both of the men are making sacrifices for their reputations though their intentions differ greatly.

The characterization of Hyde in Jekyll seems to have even more influence from Hyde of Stevenson’s work than Jackman does to Jekyll. The way Hyde is viewed by Jackman and the other characters is very similar to how Hyde is viewed in the novella. Hyde is described to be a child by many of the characters in the show and even by Jackman himself. When Dr Jekyll describes his view of Hyde in the novella he says “Hyde was so much smaller, slighter and younger than Henry Jekyll”( Stevenson 1811). In the show Hyde is viewed to be a more attractive man than Jackman, while Hyde in the novella is described as being ugly and deformed. The influence of being child like is still prevalent and important to the development of the story. Jackman’s wife describes Hyde as being like Jackman but more alive. This is relatable to how Jekyll describes his time as Hyde,when he first transformed he described himself as “exulting in the freshness of these new sensations” (Stevenson 1810). The ideas of freshness and being alive are easily seen in Hyde’s characterization in the show.

The development of the plot is also similar between the two works. The conflict in both arises when Hyde is removed from his stable environment and steps into place where he cannot be controlled. In the novella Hyde is viewed to be under control while he is in Soho and taking in part in actions that would be expected of someone in his place in society. It was when the two lives of Jekyll and Hyde mixed that disasters happened and from this Jekyll saw that it may be better to be rid of Hyde altogether. In the show the plot develops in a similar fashion. While Hyde is just going to bars and picking up prostitutes Jackman is fairly okay with Hyde’s actions. But like Jekyll, Jackman takes steps to keep Hyde separate from his life, like keeping marriage and kids a secret, and it is when that secret is revealed when things take a turn in  the story. Similar to in the novella Hyde starts to perform greater acts of violence and begins to interact in a place where it could be harming the Jackman’s reputation.

When looking at the connections between an original piece and an its adaptations one should also look at why those connections were specifically chosen rather than other aspects of the work. I believe Moffat took these aspects from Stevenson’s story because they are absolutely necessary for development of any story involving Jekyll and Hyde, and to display the thematic elements of the work. The characterizations in a story such as this are highly important to create a perfect dichotomy between the Jekyll and Hyde characters. By showing Jackman to be a kind gentle man and Hyde to be  more alive and child-like Moffat was able to show the dichotomy just as well as Stevenson. Also the development of the plot in a certain fashion upholds the thematic ideas displayed in both works. Apart from the theme of good and evil, the plot also shows themes such as lies and deceit. Because of the events that take place both Jekyll and Jackman are forced to lie  and deceive those who care about them. The theme of non aggravated violence is shown in both works. Hyde killing the boy in the show and Hyde killing Danvers in book is able to show the violence that Jackman and Jekyll were repressing within themselves.

Steven Moffat’s television show definitely a different take on the Jekyll and Hyde story. But because of necessity to include certain thematic elements, Moffat took aspects from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella.  This influence can be easily seen and shows great respect for the original work.

Works Cited

Damrosch, David, and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 1886. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. New York: Longman, 2010. 1780-818. Print.

“Horror Review: Jekyll – Fanboy News Network.” Fanboy News Network. WordPress, 12 Oct. 2013. Web. 01 May 2014.