Mary Reilly (1996)

Genres - Drama, Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Costume Horror, Period Film  |   Release Date - Feb 23, 1996 (USA)  |   Run Time - 108 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Although it bombed at the box office and put a dent in Julia Roberts' career, Mary Reilly is actually a pretty effective piece of contemporary Grand Guignol. Given that the audience probably knows the general outline of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton fashion Valerie Martin's literary retelling into a baroque mood piece in which Roberts, bereft of blush and in need of a good eyebrow plucking, gets to employ her cavernous eyes and gawky voice for something more than sexy charm. As Mary creeps from her master's laboratory to a London brothel to her mother's funeral, you can see Roberts pushing against the limits of her acting chops, but she almost pulls it off, investing her character with quiet dignity and probing intellect. As for co-star John Malkovich, he finally gets another role that warrants his affected mannerisms; in fact, he gets two, inventing distinctive tics for both Henry Jekyll and his alter ego, Edward Hyde. One could quibble about Jenny Shircore's makeup, which lets a haircut and a shave suffice as differentiators between these two characters, but the script's attention to the duality of the human psyche sets up the conceit that Hyde is no grotesque, but rather a testosterone-soaked twist on Jekyll's gentle template. The film's real monsters are the Victorian money-grubbers who exploit those of Mary's station, from avaricious landlords to shrewd ladies of the night. Among that latter class falls Mrs. Farraday, proprietress of the house of ill repute where Hyde hides out. Glenn Close interprets this character as yet another variation on her frequent parody-of-femininity archetype, bringing a nicely Dickens-ian villainy to a film whose moral palette skews more to greys than black-and-white.