Hope Dickson Leach On Her Edinburgh Pic ‘The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde’ & Why It Took Her Almost A Decade To Return To Feature Filmmaking After ‘The Levelling’
“It’s a mad way to make a film, and I’m not sure it’s not something I would rush into again,” director Hope Dickson Leach said of the process behind her latest feature, the Edinburgh competition title The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Leach, best known for her well-received debut, The Levelling, which debuted at Toronto in 2016, was approached by the National Theatre of Scotland during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to create a hybrid film-theatre project that could engage audiences while health restrictions were still in place.
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The result was a stage production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, performed live at the Leith Theatre in Edinburgh by a troop of actors who were tracked around the venue by six cameras. The footage was mixed and edited live by Leach, who sat in an operating van outside the venue.
“The actors were moving around the building, but the audience was watching a film that was happening live. If anything went wrong, there it was. One night the focus fell out of one of the cameras, and we had to get on with it,” Leach said.
The final version screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival is the completed edited performance, including some pre-recorded footage. Jekyll and Hyde is Leach’s first feature in seven years following The Levelling, which launched her career following strong reviews out of TIFF and an extended festival circuit run. The film was released in the US via Monterey Media, and Leach was nominated for three Scottish BAFTAs.
So why did it take her almost a decade to return to feature filmmaking?
“I’d been in development with a bunch of other films, and it had been brutal,” she said. “It’s so impossible to make films. I’ve been trying so hard for the last eight years to make another feature. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a complete miracle.”
Leach added that she also believes there is a certain limit to how much ambition women filmmakers are allowed to have in the industry.
“It was always like, ‘Isn’t she lovely?’ But no, fuck off, I can command a crew of 1000s,” she said.
Like Stevenson’s original novel, Leach’s Jekyll and Hyde follows Gabriel Utterson, who, after being concerned by his good friend Dr. Henry Jekyll’s recent behavior, attempts to uncover the identity of the mysterious and dangerous Mr. Hyde, to whom Jekyll is enthralled. The ensemble cast features Henry Pettigrew, Lorn Macdonald, and David Hayman, who is also a producer on the pic. For her adaptation, however, Leach moved Stevenson’s novel from London to Edinburgh, a dramatic decision she said would be clear to anyone familiar with Stevenson’s original work.
“If you read the book, you will see Edinburgh because Stephenson lived here. He grew up here. And we actually filmed in his house for some of the stuff,” she said.
Born in Hong Kong, Stevenson studied filmmaking at Columbia University before returning to the UK. She now calls Edinburgh home and has been an active member of the Scottish filmmaker scene as the city’s film community has been shaken by the closure of the Centre for the Moving Image (CMI).
Execs at the CMI appointed administrators in October. In response, the charity’s two celebrated physical cinema sites, the Belmont Filmhouse in Aberdeen and Filmhouse Cinema in Edinburgh closed. The Edinburgh Film Festival, which the CMI also ran, briefly shuttered too, before it was saved by Screen Scotland.
“It was like a funeral when the news came in. It was really devastating. It’s just a terrible time to own and run a building,” Leach said of the Filmhouse closing, adding that the CMI’s demise thankfully launched a wider conversation about what the industry can be doing better to support itself.
Screen Scotland has since hired Trainspotting producer Andrew Macdonald to create and chair a new governing board to deliver and steer the festival alongside Taylor moving forward.
“I’m hopeful that the film festival will arise better under Andrew McDonald’s wise and international industry experience as well as his passion for the festival and the Scottish film industry,” Leach said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what it will become.”
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde debuts this evening in Edinburgh, after which it will be broadcast on Sky Arts in the UK.
The Edinburgh Film Festival runs until Aug 23.
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