Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde


The National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) and Edinburgh-based director Hope Dickson Leach first collaborated with Ghost Light, a short film about empty theatres which screened online as part of the Edinburgh International Festival’s lockdown-affected 2020 offering. Last year Dickson Leach and NTS teamed up again, this time for a hybrid film-theatre adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous 1886 novella. It was presented in the capital’s atmospheric (i.e. shorn of funding for years so now somewhat dilapidated) Leith Theatre. Actors acted in various parts of the building, while the audience watched a live stream. An 111-minute version titled The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde – Live From Leith Theatre was later released in cinemas.

This Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) is of an 84-minute version, so calling it a World Premiere is a bit of a stretch. Whatever. It’s great to be able to see an edited version retooled specifically for a cinema audience – what better way to enjoy its nods towards film noir and, visually at least, German Expressionism?


Dickson Leach and co-writer Vlad Butucea have added a gay subplot and swapped the action from London to its spiritual home, Edinburgh. Good work. The capital shines (or rather glowers) as the camera drifts over cobbled streets and picks out familiar silhouettes, while the scenes shot in Leith Theatre have a pleasingly chilly feel.

They have also added a strong critique of callous, rent-seeking capitalists who care more about their shillings than their workers. It gives a neat story arc to the journey travelled by lead character Gabriel Utterson (Lorn MacDonald), a lawyer who starts out with good intentions but ends up corrupted by power and money even as he tries to help his friend Jekyll (Henry Pettigrew) rid himself of the pernicious influence of his brutish acquaintance Hyde (also Pettigrew of course). Elsewhere David Hayman and Tam Dean Burn give vivid performances as an industrialist and an unctuous councillor/shakedown merchant.

We’re in a 19th century, just not perhaps the 19th century, which may irk some. We have electric lights, telephones and mention of Sigmund Freud, so we’re roughly contemporaneous with Stevenson – but a subplot involves the building of the National Monument on Calton Hill (or Edinburgh’s Disgrace, as I was always taught to call it), which was begun in 1826 and shelved three years later. So perhaps we’re also in the Edinburgh of Burke and Hare, at least to an extent. It would fit with the mood.

Ultimately, however, the film feels torn between two competing impulses: whether on the one hand to ramp up the horror and simply offer a dark, modern take on Stevenson’s novella – or to make a virtue of the inherent staginess of the raw material, throw more time at exploiting the locations, elongate and distend, and so turn out a more artful work which makes a virtue of its constraints. Do you want a loose remix or a cover version? This film feels as if it can’t quite decide.