Jekyll and Hyde
ITV, 25 October 2015, 18:30
Jekyll and Hyde was an ITV fantasy drama series inspired by the Robert Louis Stephenson novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The first episode of the series was broadcast on 25 October 2015 at 18:30. Ofcom received 504 complaints from viewers about this episode. The majority of viewers who contacted Ofcom considered that the programme’s scenes of violence and its dark and frightening tone were unsuitable for children, and a number of complainants referred in particular to their concerns for younger children.
We noted the programme was preceded by the following pre-broadcast information:
It’s time now on ITV for a brand new adventure. It’s Jekyll and Hyde which has some violence and scenes younger children may find a bit scary.
We noted the following scenes in the programme in particular:
1) Street attack: In the programme’s opening scene, set on a dark and gloomy night in London in 1885, Edward Hyde (i.e. the alter ego of Henry Jekyll, Robert Jekyll’s grandfather) was shown arguing with and then violently attacking a man in a dimly lit street. When the man started walking away from Mr Hyde, Mr Hyde knocked him to the cobbled street with two blows from his walking stick. Then, when he was lying on his front seemingly unconscious on the ground, Mr Hyde struck the man again across the back. These shots were interspersed with an eyewitness seeing the attack and screaming. When police whistles were heard, Mr Hyde scurried away, and while escaping, threatened to hit a young girl with his stick. At the conclusion of the scene, when someone called out to him when he has arrived at his front door, Mr Hyde turned around to roar at those pursuing him. This revealed, in close-up, his disfigured face with gnarled teeth and veins protruding from his skin.
Ofcom considered the programme raised issues warranting investigation under Rule 1.3 of the Code, which states:
Children must…be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them.
Ofcom Decision: Breach of rule 1.3
Firstly, we noted several scenes that predominantly featured acts of violence. We considered these various scenes, as described in the Introduction, had a notably dark, menacing and violent tone. One of the factors cited in the Ofcom violence research as determining the audience’s attitude towards depiction of violence was the cumulative/overall impact scenes of violence when taken together, and influenced for example by other elements such as music or an ‘atmosphere of unease’ 9. The dark and menacing tone of the scenes of violence in this first episode would, in our view, have distressed some younger viewers in particular.
We considered that the dark, menacing tone was established in the programme’s opening scene (scene 1: Street attack ). This was set at night-time, accompanied by ominous music and depicted the original Dr Henry Jekyll (as Mr Edward Hyde) arguing with another man in a London street. As the man was shown trying to walk away, Mr Hyde struck him twice on the back with a walking stick (with a third blow heard but not seen by viewers). With the man knocked to the ground and apparently unconscious, Mr Jekyll struck him again across the back. An eyewitness screamed as she observed this brutal attack from a first floor window. Having threatened to violently attack a young girl he had knocked while escaping, at the conclusion of the scene, Mr Hyde suddenly turned around and roared, revealing to the audience in close up for the first time his disfigured face.
We considered that the manner in which this attack was depicted and the sudden revelation of Mr Hyde’s unnatural and frightening features, resulted in a scene that would potentially distress younger viewers. We agreed with ITV’s point that this scene did not depict explicit or graphic violence and contained no bloodshed. We also noted the Licensee’s comment that the revelation that the murder had been committed by Mr Hyde introduced an element of the fantastical to the scene. However, we considered that the depiction of a man being bludgeoned to the ground, the witness’ reaction, and the overall tone of the scene, created as the Licensee said an element of horror . We did not consider that any alarm or distress caused to younger viewers by the violence in this scene would be materially mitigated by the potentially frightening revelation that, as the Licensee described, the blows were struck not by a normal man but by Hyde a disfigured superhuman monster . In our view the impact of this scene would have been substantially increased by the fact that it was the opening scene of the programme (and indeed the series) and therefore viewers may well have been caught unawares by both its content and tone.
In Ofcom’s view, the dichotomous and unpredictable personality of the programme’s central character (as demonstrated in this scene at start of the episode shown around six minutes in to the episode) had the potential to scare some younger children. ITV argued that this was counteracted by Dr Jekyll’s role in defeating the forces of evil . We disagreed. In our view, any such role was not at all clearly established in this opening episode of the series so as to effectively counteract the likely level of distress caused to some younger children, caused for example by Mr Hyde’s behaviour in the scene where he seemed on the verge of letting a small girl be crushed to death by a truck. Viewers would have been left with the overall impression of Robert Jekyll as a character was unable to control his alter ego, who unpredictably behaved in a cruel and violent way. We considered this aspect added to the potential for some of the content in this programme to cause distress or concern to younger children.
In conclusion, Ofcom considered that the programme’s content was not so strong that, with appropriate scheduling, it could not be broadcast pre-watershed. However, in the specific circumstances of this case, we considered that the content would have exceeded the expectations of viewers, and in particular parents and carers, at this time and on this channel. Therefore, while acknowledging this was a finely balanced decision, Ofcom concluded that children were not in this case protected from unsuitable material by appropriate scheduling, and there was a breach of Rule 1.3.
ITV have now cancelled the series and noted that they received 380 complaints about the violence/scheduling.