Mary Reilly was directed by Stephen Frears, a very good director who has done many things that I like, and is based on a novel by Valerie Martin. In turn, her novel was based on The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. It had been around for a while, and was initially going to be directed by Roman Polanski. The closet it got to being made before this version was with Tim Burton as the director, with Winona Ryder in the title role. Burton had agreed to do Ed Wood at that point, but Sony, which was doing Mary Reilly, put Ed Wood into turnaround. That was the project he was most interested in, so he left Mary Reilly. Producer Denise di Novi, who had worked with Burton for years, left along with him, as did several others. Winona Ryder was set for the title role in the Burton version.
The ensuing scramble for a new director turned up Frears. He originally wanted Daniel Day-Lewis and Uma Thurman for the leads, who would have been absolutely perfect. Reportedly, Day-Lewis turned it down, and I can understand that, as he is very picky about what work he will take. Frears ended up with John Malkovich and Julia Roberts, who hated each other.
The result is a bit of a mess. Roberts plays Mr. Hyde’s maid, the story is told through her eyes, and there is a romance angle. And while Frears is great at crime movies and drama, a gothic romance-horror movie is just not his thing. It really needed someone like Burton or Guillermo del Toro to do it justice.
Roberts is absolutely dreadful in Mary Reilly. She’s trying to do some accent, you’re not sure whether it’s supposed to Irish or English. Malkovich is better—he can play creepy pretty damn well—and he just about saves it from being a disaster. Michael Gambon, Glenn Close and Michael Sheen are also in the cast. In the end, it’s fine, but the off casting and Roberts’s accent issues come close to sinking it. They obviously thought they could replicate the success of Dangerous Liaisons from a few years before (lots of the crew and cast overlap), but it’s very messy and something of a missed opportunity despite the talent involved.
There’s a featurette, trailer, b-roll and a few other features.