“Jekyll” and the Civilizing Influence of Women

At a key moment in the first episode of Jekyll, a reimagining of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that premieres on BBC America this Saturday, Miranda, a private detective, realizes that the earnest, honest Dr. Jackman has morphed into his much more sinister alter ego. Knowing that both she and her lover, Min, are in danger, she sends Min away on a false errand.

Once Min has left, Miranda looks at Dr. Jackman, who has shifted into the powerful, brutal Hyde, and asks, "How often do we mistake a miracle for a monster?" Hoping to soothe him into believing that she believes in his potential, she adds, "You can be anything you want to be, Mr. Hyde."

Miranda, played with cool assurance by British-Indian actress and author Meera Syal, is the normalizing force in Jekyll, a miniseries that often lingers with glee on Hyde’s manic lust for sex and violence. She and Min, played by Fenella Woolgar (Bright Young Things), squabble with each other in the joking way of an old couple, and they bring what Jekyll creator Steven Moffat called "a gust of normality" into each scene they’re in.

"It was important that you would want to go around to Miranda and Min’s house and they’d look after you," Moffat said in an interview with AfterEllen.com last month. "They’d make you scones and tea and be sweet to you. … [Dr. Jackman] has to trust them instantly."

Dr. Jackman and Mr. Hyde are both played by James Nesbitt (Bloody Sunday), who digs into his dual role with convincing gusto, and the series is set in present-day Britain.

As the miniseries begins, Dr. Tom Jackman, a research scientist, has discovered that he has another personality within him, and that man, Hyde, will stop at nothing to satisfy his cravings. Jackman, of course, is horrified by Hyde’s actions, and attempts to control Hyde by monitoring him with all manner of modern electronic devices.

(warning: some mild spoilers following.)

In order to prevent Hyde from finding out about his wife and twin sons, Jackman has left his bewildered, beautiful wife, Claire, and has built himself a prison of sorts, staffed by coolly sexy psychiatric nurse Katherine Reimer. (Claire is played by Gina Bellman, who played the bisexual Jane Christie in the British series Coupling, and Katherine Reimer is played by Michelle Ryan, who plays the title role in NBC’s short-lived Bionic Woman series.)

Claire, of course, suspects that her husband is having an affair, and hires a detective — Miranda — to investigate.

But before Miranda can do more than take some photos (which Claire brandishes in her husband’s face) and develop some very interesting theories, someone bribes her to stop her investigation. Jackman tracks her down, knowing that she must have seen him as Hyde, and despite the bribe she offers to help him figure out who, exactly, he is.

"It was a very difficult role to cast, actually," said Moffat of the role of Miranda, whom he described as "probably the most straightforwardly heroic character" in the series. "A lot of the dialogue — aside from some bantering with Min — is being the very wise, very intelligent, very sort of morally alert one. So there’s a real danger that would be boring, frankly."

In order to prevent the role of Miranda from becoming merely "the exposition character," Moffat decided to make her part of a couple; Miranda’s partner, Min, also acts to some degree as her assistant. "It was less of a lesbian thing, but more of … if they’re a couple, they’ll squabble a bit," he explained.

"You know, they’ll lecture each other a bit, and that’s just funny, rather than having just somebody being solemn all the time. I was thinking, they’re the way couples are who’ve been around each other for awhile."

Moffat wanted to find someone who would give Miranda "a bit of life," and he found that in Meera Syal, a writer (Anita and Me) and comedian (Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee, The Kumars at No.42) who was awarded the MBE — that’s two steps shy of becoming a Dame — in 1997.

"Just being the very clever, very moral one, who comes in and really sort of explains the plot," Moffat said with a laugh, "can be dull, so it was a tough part to cast. We went around to a lot of people, a lot of very good actresses trying to get someone who just gave it a bit of flavor, and Meera is just — she’s a comedy performer — could just give it a little bit of a spin without doing too much."

"A lot of detective roles you read are a load of clichés," Syal said in a press release. "Miranda was such a different character and I really enjoyed her relationship with Min, not just because she’s a lesbian but because the kind of banter they have is funny and fresh and rather Noel Cowardy. And they’re also actually probably one of the happiest couples in the whole series! Miranda and Min’s relationship is one of the spines running through the drama."

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