Sunday, December 15, 2019

Off Script: Mary Reilly

Films: Mary Reilly
Format: DVD from Wilmington Public Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

I sometimes will watch a movie and write up a review that I can post if I ever need one. It’s been more and more difficult to find time to watch movies this year because of work, so there are plenty of times in the past year I have “banked” a review for use later. I thought that was the case for Mary Reilly, a retelling of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story from the point of view of Jekyll’s housekeeper. I did watch the movie and I remember it well enough, but I evidently used that review as a template for another review, so my original thoughts on Mary Reilly have gone the way of the dodo.

The idea is a fantastic one, honestly. Take a classic, well-known story and tell it from the point of view of a minor character who would simultaneously have a clear window into the proceedings of the entire story. The problem is that while the idea for the film is tremendous, almost nothing is done with it. It’s literally just the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde told from the point of view of the housekeeper. That’s it.

It doesn’t help the film that Julia Roberts, who played the titular Mary and John Malkovich as the dual-personalitied Jekyll and Hyde had famously terrible chemistry on the set, which bled over into what happens on the screen. Over the course of the film we get some transformations, we get a few murders, and we get a really failed romance between Jekyll/Hyde and Mary. It’s supposed to be a tragic romance that is cursed by the creation of Hyde and his eventual takeover of Jekyll’s personality, but it’s really just a failed romance.

I think the idea here was to give Julia Roberts a different sort of street cred. While she’d done a horror movie or two before this (Flatliners, for instance), Mary Reilly was clearly supposed to be something darker and grittier, a sort of gothic noir/horror movie/Victorian romance. Mary Reilly has a lot of aspirations and just doesn’t have the guts to pull any of it off. That, and Julia Roberts is completley lost trying to provide an accent.

This is strange to me, because Stephen Frears is typically a very good and reputable director. He’s done work in similar genres before and done it really well. In fact, I like most of the Frears movies I’ve see aside from this one. It’s what caused me to go into this with higher hopes than this movie deserved.

The really sad thing is that, now that I’m writing this a few months after I actually saw the movie, I’m having trouble actually remembering much more about it than I’ve already said. It’s dark and dreary, the romance doesn’t work, and otherwise the story follows exactly the plot that you expect it to if you’ve read the original book, the novelization this film was based on, or any cinematic version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The one thing that is supposed to be new here—the point of view—ends up being disappointing.

So, ultimately, I can’t say that this was worth tracking down. More than that, I can’t say it was worth tracking down a second time to try to remember anything from it.

Why to watch Mary Reilly: It’s a great idea.
Why not to watch: The execution is lacking.


  1. Yeah, I heard this is one of those films that really missed the mark and it's one of those films that has Julia Roberts trying to do something different and it doesn't work. She can be a strong dramatic actress but it has to be with the right material and with the right filmmaker.

    1. I can't really consider myself a huge Julia Roberts fan, although I don't specifically dislike her. I think she's limited on screen, and this was far outside of that range.