Jekyll and Hyde labelled ‘too scary’ for kids

Two-faced: Tom Bateman stars as both Jekyll and Hyde in ITV’s Sunday evening drama. © ITV

Parents have complained that a new TV adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde will give young children nightmares. Based on a classic book, is this serious drama or gratuitous violence?

‘All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone, in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil.’

Fog curls down a dark London street in the opening scene of ITV’s new drama Jekyll and Hyde. Two men are arguing in the road — and as one turns to leave, the other raises his cane and beats the man to the ground. A woman, watching from a nearby window, begins to scream.

The story may open in the Victorian London of Robert Louis Stevenson‘s famous novella, but it soon skips ahead fifty years to follow Dr Jekyll’s grandson, Robert, who has inherited his ‘hormonal imbalance’ along with his medical career. The show has more monsters than Stevenson’s original, including a disturbing half-man, half-dog called a ‘Harbinger’. It is also violent — with deaths by fire and gunshots, and frequent fight scenes.

The first two episodes received some good reviews — but at home, many viewers were less impressed. The show was broadcast at 6:30pm, and concerned parents protested that it was ‘not for the eyes of young children’. The communications regulator Ofcom has opened an investigation after more than 800 complaints about the show.

But writer Charlie Higson defended the decision to put the programme on at that time, saying ‘We can’t protect our children from being scared but we can prepare them for it by exposing them to harmless scares so they learn how to cope.’

Guidelines for the 9pm ‘watershed’ prevent broadcasters from showing any ‘explicit’ scenes of violence, sex or strong language. But the Jekyll and Hyde team were ‘surprised’ by the complaints — one source ‘close to the production team’ told the Guardian that they had seen similar amounts of violence in Harry Potter films shown before the watershed.

Hyde and seek

Christopher Stevens called the timing of the show ‘simply callous’ in his Daily Mail review, and refused to even give it a rating. It is deeply irresponsible to expose young children to such horror and violence, he said, as it puts them at risk of nightmares about things they cannot understand. Acts of violence and murder are serious, disturbing realities of the world we live in; young children should be protected from them.

Rubbish, say others. Young children are used to seeing violence in Doctor Who, another weekend sci-fi show. What makes Jekyll and Hyde truly scary is its psychological depth: many studies have shown that even young children have the capacity for extremes of good and evil. Stevenson played on this truth about human nature. Jekyll and Hyde has haunted its readers for generations, but not because it is about supernatural monsters — because it is about us all.

You Decide

  1. What is the scariest thing about Jekyll and Hyde ?
  2. Should children be exposed to ‘harmless scares’ from time to time?

Activities

  1. Create a storyboard for the first scene of your own Jekyll and Hyde adaptation, set in the 21st century.
  2. Plan an essay on the theme of ‘duality’ in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Some People Say...

“Horror stories help us understand ourselves.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Isn’t the show just a bit of fun?
Higson describes his programme as ‘Downton Abbey with monsters’; it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. But the original story has lasted for well over a century because its central themes are so universal. Its obsession with the duality of human nature has particularly fascinated Freudian psychologists.
How scary is Stevenson’s story?
Although it was first a pure mystery story, Stevenson revised his second draft with a darker subtext. Victorian society had its own ‘split personality’; it was famous for strict social norms, but also for terrible acts of violence abroad. Its people were fascinated by the ‘less civilised’ nations colonised in the name of British empire. Stevenson’s story offered Victorians a chilling reminder of the darkness within.

Word Watch

Jekyll and Hyde
The show is an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde , which was published in 1886. The novella tells the story of Dr Jekyll, who believes that ‘man is not truly one, but truly two’. He invents a potion to separate his two sides, hoping to rid himself of darkness. Instead, he releases a murderous alter-ego, known as Mr Hyde.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Born in 1850, the writer battled various illnesses throughout his life. He travelled around the world and wrote several books and essays about his journeys. He also helped to popularise the short story form in Britain, after it was developed in France, America and Russia from around the first half of the 19th century.
Novella
Longer than a short story, but not as long as a traditional novel. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is around 26,000 words long.
Ofcom
The body set up by parliament to regulate the communications sector, including television and radio.
Charlie Higson
The writer, actor and comedian is most famous for his work on the 1990s sketch show The Fast Show.

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