Isabelle Huppert is struck by a bolt of lightning in Serge Bozon’s reworking of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic.

Madame Hyde

Dir: Serge Bozon. France. 2017. 95 mins

The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde has rarely seemed as strange as it does in Mrs Hyde (Madame Hyde), a modern-day reworking of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic that reunites Isabelle Huppert with Tip Top director Serge Bozon. Significant elements of the story survive in a film that attempts an idiosyncratic hybrid of black comedy, social commentary, special-effects and advanced physics. It achieves stray laughs and some clever moments, but not enough to render it more than a strained curiosity.

Faithful to the Robert Louis Stevenson text, Mrs Hyde grows darker as it unfolds, and there is a growing sense that it may all have to end badly.

Huppert gamely grabs a comparatively rare chance to play comedy as Marie Géquil (pronounced Jekyll of course), a physics teacher at the Arthur Rimbaud Lycee. Timid and unable to either inspire or control a class, she is despised by unruly pupils who sense her weakness and feast on it. All fluttery gestures and cowed shoulders, Marie has the look of a rabbit trapped in the headlights and seems constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Working after school one stormy night, she is struck by a bolt of lightning. She seems unharmed but is definitely a changed woman. She is possessed of a new calm authority and boundless amounts of energy. Everyone can see the difference, including genial house husband Pierre (Jose Garcia in a role originally announced for Gerard Depardieu), who assumes it might have something to do with the menopause.

Marie’s touch can now burn through wood, melt ice or carbonise unwary dogs. We see sparks of electricity course through her veins and when she sleepwalks through the city at night she becomes a fiery figure not unlike Phoenix from the X-Men films.

Marie’s transformation is the high concept, potentially amusing element of Mrs Hyde, but more engaging and involving is her relationship with a class of pupils who start to regard her with a good deal more respect. When she sets them a project of building a Faraday cage, they even respond eagerly to the challenge. She goes out of her way to encourage disabled pupil Malik (Adda Senani)  and he become something of a protege as he develops a natural talent for physics.

Faithful to the Robert Louis Stevenson text, Mrs Hyde grows darker as it unfolds, with individuals falling victim to Marie’s powers, and there is a growing sense that it may all have to end badly.

Mrs Hyde has some inspired notions, but it never feels as if it has truly refined them into a coherent film. The comic elements are laboured, with some of the star names encouraged towards mannered performances. A floppy haired, smarmy Romain Duris seems especially guilty of over-egging his character of a vain, conceited ninny of a teacher. Huppert is always watchable, but even she seems more comfortable as the assertive Marie rather than the ineffectual creature that we first encounter.

Perhaps because his character is the one most grounded in reality, Senani steals the show as Malik. The handsome newcomer has real presence and finds depths and emotions in Malik that make him the most memorable figure in this most peculiar film. 

Production companies: Les Films Pelleas, Fracas Productions

International sales: MK2

Producers: David Thion, Philippe Martin

Screenplay: Serge Bozon, Axelle Ropert based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson

Cinematography: Celine Bozon

Editor: Francois Quiquere

Production design: Laurie Colson

Music: Benjamin Esdraffo

Main cast: Isabelle Huppert, Romain Duris, Jose Garcia, Adda Senani