`Mary' Never Reconciles the Jekyll-and-Hyde Conflict

Article excerpt

Comes now Stephen Frears with the strangely tedious, lackluster case of "Mary Reilly," a revamp of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" from the woman's angle. Or appalled housemaid's angle, to be precise.

Heaven knows what will become of the long-suffering, overstimulated, death-haunted Mary Reilly, impersonated by Julia Roberts in a remarkable impression of Mia Farrow at her mousiest.

In the penultimate interlude, Mary, always a devoted servant and good girl, tenderly reclines next to the fresh corpse of John Malkovich as tormented Dr. Henry Jekyll, laid out on the marble platform in his surgical theater. The deceased promptly assumes a death mask belonging to his evil but virile double, the homicidal libertine Edward Hyde. This aspect of the famous dual role certainly gives Mr. Malkovich kickier opportunities than monotonous, repressed Jekyll.

Still grieving for her dear mother, recently buried, and evidently unresolved about the Jekyll-Hyde conflict, which pulled her between feelings of admiration and pity on one side, loathing and arousal on the other, Mary could also be mistaken for a budding necrophiliac.

This dire possibility is reinforced by the movie's gloomy-gloomy lighting schemes. Miss Roberts herself permits a pallor that wouldn't need much exaggeration to become vampirish.

"Mary Reilly" reunites several of the people who were impressively associated on "Dangerous Liaisons" in 1988: director Frears, screenwriter Christopher Hampton, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, production designer Stuart Craig, cast members Mr. Malkovich and Glenn Close, recruited to play a cynical madame, Mrs. Farraday. The "Liaisons" triumph accounts in some measure for the "Reilly" fizzle. The former's preoccupation with sexual corruption is shifted clumsily to the Jekyll-Hyde mystery, where it resembles unclaimed baggage.

Stevenson was content with a veiled, indirect account of the hidden criminal urges that surface in Hyde, destroying the host personality of Dr. …