Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, March 10, 2006

Making time for Mary Reilly

While channel surfing the other day,I caught part of a not so old movie that inspired me to check my book shelves to see if I still had the paperback copy of the novel it was based on. Not only did I still have it(somewhat faded but otherwise in good shape)but I decided that there was no better time than now to actually read it.

As you can guess from the title of this post,the book is Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin,which was made into a Stephen Frears film starring Julia Roberts as the title character who is a housemaid working for a certain Dr.Henry Jekyll(played by John Malkovich). Mary and the good doctor do share an attraction to each other but the social boundaries of the Victorian society keep them at bay,until the introduction of Edward Hyde(I don't need to tell who plays him,right? You guys know this story pretty well)into their lives,causing more than one upheaval.

I saw the movie when it first came out in theaters and was one of the few who actually liked it-most people were expecting a horror flick and many mocked poor Julia for trying out a dramatic role. This was way before Erin Brockovich gave Roberts some arthouse cred. Glenn Close is also in the cast as Mrs. Farraday,a madam who covers up some of Hyde's misdeeds but not without a price. She and Malkovich had last worked together in Dangerous Liasons so that was brought up in comparison. Sort of like comparing apples to Oldsmobiles,in my opinion.

The book is very compelling-it's told in journal form as Mary struggles to contain her feelings about Master(as she calls Jekyll)and her worst childhood terror which was being locked into a cupboard with a large rat by her drunken father. The scars from that experience open up a dialogue between servant and employer-Mary is asked to give Master a written account of her wounds,due to his professional curiosity. The arms length at which these two hold each other is sad and all too real,one of the strong elements of the plot.

It's been awhile since I saw the movie version from start to finish but the one main difference between the film and the book is the talkiness of the characters. It's not a criticism; in order to present the story visually,you need folks to open up their mouths to tell you what's going on. Different mediums require different methods. Otherwise,there's very little difference that I can pick up. The growing intimacy between Mary and Master is made abit more obvious in the film but that's understandable,too.

Mary Reilly is a wonderfully dark story and my only regret here is waiting so long to read it for myself. Valerie Martin has written a few more books since then but you wouldn't go wrong by starting off with this sinister slice of a servant girl's struggles with heart and soul. Don't avoid the movie either-Malkovich gives you a good show and Roberts is not so bad either. It's funny,the things you keep around and refuse to throw out,just in case. Sometimes,that really pays off.

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