Film Review: Mary Reilly (1996)

“I always knew you’d be the death of us.”

Even the look on Julia Roberts’ face is warning you away, ‘don’t watch Mary Reilly, it isn’t that good a film at all and my fringe is terrible’. Not only her fringe, her Irish accent is atrocious and inconsistent and the whole premise of the film – a retelling of the Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde story from Valerie Martin’s novel – rests on people not being able to recognise John Malkovich in a wig and coloured contacts. 

It could have been so much more promising. Director Stephen Frears reunited several of his Dangerous Liaisons colleagues – screenwriter Christopher Hampton, actors Malkovich and Glenn Close, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and several others – but the slow, dour nature of the film is horrifically exacerbated by Roberts and Malkovich’s performances in all their miscast, malformed unglory.

For what it’s worth, Roberts plays Reilly, a maid with a troubled past who is pleased to have secured a position in the respectable Doctor Jekyll’s house but soon finds herself falling for the master, and his mysterious friend WHO LOOKS NOTHING LIKE HIM. Along the way, a live eel is killed, a mangle is used, Linda Bassett’s dead body is put in a wardrobe, and the will to live to leached from your very body.

In the supporting cast, merciful highlights includes an incredibly fresh-faced Michael Sheen, the likes of Bassett, Henry Goodman and Wendy Nottingham popping up, and George Cole and Kathy Staff both impressing as members of the household staff, both now having sadly passed away. But even Close can’t save this film, delivering one of her less nuanced performances (to put it kindly) as entrepreneurial madam Mrs Farraday. One to avoid.

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