Mary Reilly
Theatrical release poster
Directed byStephen Frears
Written byChristopher Hampton
Based onMary Reilly
by Valerie Martin
Produced byNorma Heyman
Ned Tanen
Nancy Graham Tanen
CinematographyPhilippe Rousselot
Edited byLesley Walker
Music byGeorge Fenton
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • February 23, 1996 (1996-02-23) (United States)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$47 million[1]
Box office$12.9 million[1]

Mary Reilly is a 1996 American gothic horror film directed by Stephen Frears and starring Julia Roberts and John Malkovich. It was written by Christopher Hampton and adapted from the 1990 novel of the same name by Valerie Martin (itself inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde).

It reunited director Frears, screenwriter Hampton, and actors Malkovich and Glenn Close, who were involved in the Oscar-winning Dangerous Liaisons (1988).

Mary Reilly was theatrically released by TriStar Pictures on February 23, 1996 to poor reviews. It was a box office bomb, making just $12 million against its $47 million budget.[2]


Mary Reilly comes to work as a maid in the household of Dr. Henry Jekyll. She and Jekyll develop a rapport and he begins to call on her for assistance, to the consternation of his butler, Poole. Jekyll is fascinated by scars Mary bears on her hand and neck, which she reluctantly allows him to examine, explaining they are from a childhood incident where her abusive father locked her in a cupboard with live rats. The staff begin to notice the doctor throwing himself into his work at odd hours, culminating in his announcement that he has hired an assistant, Edward Hyde, who is to be given full run of the household.

One night, waking from a nightmare, Mary sees Hyde leaving the house, follows him, and witnesses him paying off—with a cheque signed by Jekyll—the family of a young girl he has savagely beaten. Hyde later approaches her in the Doctor's library, crudely propositioning her and making taunting references to her relationship with her father. Mary is equally fascinated and repulsed by him.

On an errand to deliver a letter from Jekyll to Mrs. Faraday, a madam, Mary learns that a bloody mess at the whorehouse was caused by Mr. Hyde. Mrs. Faraday arrives at Jekyll's home, insists on seeing him and demands more money for her continued silence. While watering the garden, Mary notices the lights in the laboratory go out and, investigating, discovers a small pool of blood on the theater table. She leaves, not noticing Hyde disposing of Mrs. Faraday's severed head.

Mary returns home to plan her mother's funeral. As she returns to Jekyll's house, Hyde grabs her in the alley and forces her into an embrace; he is being pursued by the police. He tells her that he supposes she won't see him again before kissing her and disappearing. Eventually the police question Mary about the murder of Sir Danvers Carew, a friend of Jekyll's and a Member of Parliament, and she denies having seen Hyde that day. Jekyll later warns Mary that she should not have lied to the police. In any case, because the public killing of Carew cannot be "easily swept under the carpet", Hyde must leave London; that is why, Jekyll explains, he has bribed and made Hyde swear to disappear forever.

Days later, Mary is surprised to discover Hyde in the doctor's bed. When she tries to raise the alarm, he stops her and explains that, as a cure for depression, Jekyll injects himself with a serum that transforms him into Hyde, who later injects the "antidote" to resume being Jekyll. Hyde says he now has the ability to appear without the aid of the serum, and tries to persuade her to have sex with him. Mary is shocked, finding all of this hard to believe; he lets her go before turning himself back into Jekyll.

Jekyll sends Poole to a chemist's to analyze an impure drug and recreate it, telling him that it is a matter of life and death. Jekyll then asks Mary to prepare a room for him in his laboratory, where he plans to spend most of his time. Poole returns, having not been able to retrieve a satisfactory sample of the drug. Mary visits the laboratory, where she hears Jekyll sobbing, but quietly retreats.

Mary packs to leave during the night, but on her way out, she decides to visit the lab. There Hyde attacks her and holds a knife to her throat, but he cannot bring himself to kill her. He then injects himself with the antidote, and Mary is forced to witness the horrific transformation of one man into the other. Jekyll reveals that Hyde has mixed a poison with the antidote, and then dies in Mary's arms. In the morning, Jekyll, although dead, has transformed into Hyde one last time, as Mary walks into the fog.



Producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber acquired the film rights to Mary Reilly in 1989, and optioned them for Warner Bros. with Roman Polanski as director.[3] When Guber became CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment later that year, he moved Mary Reilly to Sony's sister company, TriStar Pictures, where Tim Burton was approached to direct with Denise Di Novi to produce in 1991.[4] Christopher Hampton was hired to write the screenplay, and Burton signed on as director in January 1993, after he approved Hampton's rewrite.[3]

Burton intended to start filming in January 1994 with Winona Ryder in the leading role,[5] after he completed filming Ed Wood.[6] However, Burton dropped out in May 1993 over his anger against Guber for putting Ed Wood in turnaround.[4] Stephen Frears was TriStar's first choice to replace Burton, and Di Novi was fired and replaced with Ned Tanen.[4] Daniel Day-Lewis was TriStar's first choice for the role of Dr. Jekyll and Uma Thurman for the role of Mary.[4]

Principal photography was reported to begin in the spring of 1994.[7] The script would undergo as many as 25 drafts and Frears shot three different potential endings.[8] Frears wanted to go with a more ambiguous ending, but the studio and test audiences reacted to this version negatively as they saw it as too "downbeat".[8] TriStar then hired a different editor to edit Frears' cut, but when test audiences' reactions did not improve with this newer version, they reverted back to Frears' original cut.[8]


Box office

After multiple delays and changes to its release date, the film premiered on 23 February 1996 in the United States.[9][8] Reports of alleged production delays and animosity between the actors helped fuel poor word-of-mouth preceding the film's release.[10][8] Domestically, the film earned $5.7 million.[11] As international markets released it throughout the spring and summer of 1996, it would take in only an additional $6.6 million.[11] Ultimately, the film grossed just $12.3 million worldwide[11] on a reported budget of $40 million.[8] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of C on a scale of A+ to F.[12]

Of the film's poor commercial performance, an unnamed source close to the production said TriStar allowed the film to become "too big, too expensive, too Hollywood", and once the production began attracting major talent, "a dark little film turned into a dark, big film that was unlikely to justify its cost."[8]

Home media

The film was released on VHS on August 27, 1996, Laserdisc on October 8, 1996, and DVD on September 12, 2000 by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.[13] The film was released on Blu-ray on October 3, 2017 by Mill Creek Entertainment.[14]


Critical response

Mary Reilly holds a 26% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 43 reviews, with an average rating of 4.3/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Mary Reilly looks good and has its moments but overall, the movie borders on boredom."[15] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 44 based on 22 critics' reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[16] Criticisms expressed the film lacked suspense and chemistry between its leads.[17] David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, "Overtly Freudian (not for nothing is Mary first seen bearing a squirming eel into the kitchen), the movie wants to explore the dark alleys of Victorian sexuality, with Jekyll as Superego and Hyde as Id, and Mary caught in the middle, confronting her primal horror. This isn't dumb, but it plays out as academically as it sounds, without a shred of true terror and with only the most muted sexual charge."[18] Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman commented, "Instead of tapping the theatrical heart of the material, Frears and Hampton reduce the three major characters to drawing-room stiffs who sit around explaining their passion instead of acting on it."[19]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times observed, "Clearly Ms. Roberts has the makings of a serious actress and the wherewithal to become one, but Mary Reilly offers a vehicle that is unrelievedly grim. The greatest demands placed on her here are sustaining a brogue and pronouncing 'laboratory' with the emphasis on the second syllable."[20]

One of the few critics to muster praise was Roger Ebert, who awarded the film three out of four stars.[21] Ebert felt the story "is in some ways more faithful to the spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson's original story than any of the earlier films based on it, because it's true to the underlying horror. This film is not about makeup or special effects, or Hyde turning into the Wolf Man. It's about a powerless young woman who feels sympathy for one side of a man's nature, and horror of the other."[21]

Multiple critics said Roberts and Malkovich were "miscast".[18][22][17] Ebert disagreed with these stances as well, deeming the performances "subtle and well-controlled", noting Malkovich in particular as "quiet but simmering with anger".[21]


Julia Roberts was nominated for Worst Actress by the Razzie Awards, and Stephen Frears was nominated for Worst Director. Both "lost" to Demi Moore and Andrew Bergman, respectively, for Striptease.[23] The Stinkers also nominated Roberts for Worst Actress; she "lost" to Whoopi Goldberg in a one-woman three-way-tie for Eddie, Bogus, and Theodore Rex.[24] The film was also entered in the 46th Berlin International Film Festival.[25]


  1. ^ a b "Mary Reilly - Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
  2. ^ Shaw, Gabbi (27 February 2017). "The biggest box office flop from the year you were born". Insider. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  3. ^ a b Eller, Claudia (11 January 1993). "Fox mulls playing 'Pat' hand; TriStar woos Woo". Variety. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d Eller, Claudia (3 May 1993). "Burton's off 'Reilly'". Variety. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  5. ^ Salisbury, Mark, ed. (2006). "Cabin Boy and Ed Wood". Burton on Burton. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 128-130. ISBN 978-0-57-122926-0.
  6. ^ "TriStar Pictures slate for 1993". Variety. 4 February 1993. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  7. ^ Egan, Timothy (12 December 1993). "FILM; Julia Roberts, After the Layoff and With Lyle". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Masters, Kim (25 February 1996). "The Strife of Reilly". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  9. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (13 October 1995). "Will 'Mary Reilly' ever open?". Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  10. ^ O'Sullivan, Kevin (2 March 1996). "Frump in a Slump: How Many More Box Office Bombs Can Julia Roberts Get Away With?". New York Daily News. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  11. ^ a b c "Mary Reilly". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  12. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on 20 December 2018. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  13. ^ "Mary Reilly - Releases". AllMovie. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  14. ^ "Mary Reilly". Mill Creek Entertainment. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  15. ^ "Mary Reilly (1996)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  16. ^ "Mary Reilly". Metacritic. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  17. ^ a b Cheshire, Godfrey (19 February 1996). "Film Review: Mary Reilly". Variety. Attempting a Gothic-romance slant on the legend of Jekyll and Hyde, Mary Reilly has plenty of production polish but little of the dramatic force and erotic spark needed to vivify [the story]
  18. ^ a b Ansen, David (25 February 1996). "Dr. Freud And Mr. Hyde". Newsweek. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  19. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (8 March 1996). "Mary Reilly". Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  20. ^ Maslin, Janet (23 February 1996). "FILM REVIEW;Of the Jekyll-Hyde Duo And Their (His?) Maid". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  21. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (23 February 1996). "Mary Reilly movie review & film summary (1996)".
  22. ^ "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had been done to death — until 'Mary Reilly' transformed the tale". SYFY Official Site. 22 February 2021. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  23. ^ "1996 RAZZIE® Nominees & "Winners"". Archived from the original on 6 December 2012. Retrieved 6 July 2011.
  24. ^ "1996 19th Hastings Bad Cinema Society Stinkers Awards". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 3 January 2007.
  25. ^ "Berlinale: 1996 Programme". Retrieved 1 January 2012.