Did you ever wonder what The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would be like if Jekyll, Hyde or both of them had a woman in their lives?
Mary Reilly is about an Irish maid in Henry Jekyll's household who becomes the confidant and love interest of Jekyll, the unwilling accomplice and object of lust for Edward Hyde and the suspension of disbelief replacement for the audience, since by now everyone and his grandmother knows the doctor's little secret.
The film starts with Mary and Jekyll gradually growing closer despite their social stations, as Mary unbends to him and tells him how her father used to beat her for breaking cups and locked her in a cupboard under the stairs with rats. Happy days. Naturally such happiness cannot last, as the doctor announces that he plans to have a new assistant. Of course the audience knows where this is heading, but the staff are naturally curious about this new man, especially since they never seem to be able to catch a glimpse of him.
Then, Jekyll begins to ask Mary to run errands for him - some less than tasteful, such as delivering a letter to Mrs. Farraday, the madame of a brothel, in order that his assistant can rent a room. Up late one night, Mary witnesses the self same assistant handing over a cheque for blood money. And when she finally meets the enigmatic Mr. Hyde, things soon spiral out of control for all three of them...
- Abusive Parents: Mary's father whipped her with his belt for breaking a cup once. It's implied he may have raped her as well. Mary's mother actually knew nothing about it since she worked all day. Mary does say that her father was nice to her before he started drinking.
- Affectionate Nickname: Mrs Farraday refers to the doctor as Harry.
- And I Must Scream: Mary's father locked her in the cupboard under the stairs and then put a rat in a sack in there with her, knowing she was scared of them. The kicker is of course Mary sitting in fear knowing that eventually the rat would bite its way out of the bag.
- Anti-Climax: Much like in the original novel, Hyde commits suicide.
- Beauty Inversion: Julia Roberts bypasses Hollywood Homely straight away to look quite believable as a dowdy and repressed scullery maid.
- Bishōnen: Hyde, in contrast to his original monstrous description.
- Body Horror: John Malkovich undergoes one of the most gruesome and spectacular Jekyll/Hyde transformations ever committed to screen, with Hyde appearing inside Jekyll's body and growing outwards.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Mrs Farraday is the blonde and the other maid Annie is brunette to contrast with Mary's redhead.
- Call-Forward: Hyde walks with a unique limp as book readers will know. Mary first tells Jekyll that her father walked strangely as well before we first see Hyde, implying Jekyll got the idea from her.
- Cant Get Away With Nothing: Poole will not cut Mary a break for anything. Even an offhand remark to Jekyll about worrying that he's working too hard earns her a rebuke for "presuming she can tell the Master how to do his job."
- Clark Kenting: Actually done pretty convincingly here. Only a change in hairstyle and mannerisms distinguish Jekyll from Hyde, but since Hyde doesn't interact very much with Jekyll's staff apart from Mary he can get away with it. That said, some of the servants do discuss the close physical resemblance between them and gossip about how they might be related (there's talk that Hyde could be an illegitimate son). It also does say something about John Malkovich's acting ability that he is able to make Jekyll and Hyde seem like very different people. He also wore blue contacts to play Jekyll, adding another difference.
- Costume Porn: Mrs Farraday's costumes. These are in direct contrast to the plain and dowdy clothes that the servants wear.
- Death of a Child: A little girl is seen being beaten to death on the street.
- Empathic Environment: The growing flowerbeds in the kitchen garden represent the growing relationship between Mary and the doctor.
- Everyone Loves Blondes: Mrs Faraday, in contrast to the demure red-haired Mary.
- The Film of the Book: Based on a 1990 novel by Valerie Martin.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Mary's scars are on the hands and around the neck but they are easily covered up by her clothes and her face is untouched. Of course since the scars came from a rat biting her, it makes sense she'd cover her face while it was doing so.
- Gory Discretion Shot: We never actually see Mary's father whipping her or the rat biting her, but Mary's scars speak for themselves.
- Informed Attribute: Mary has been in service since she was twelve years old, yet she behaves as though she is new to the job, speaking out of turn to the doctor and snooping around very obviously. Though it could be justified as Mary says "this is by far the best place I've worked" which could imply this is the only house where she'd normally be able to get away with behaviour like that.
- Kick the Dog: Mary's mother's landlord stuffed the mother's body into a wardrobe since there was such a high demand for her room.
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: When Mrs Kent talks about a maid who was summoned to the master's room every day, Bradshaw remarks "I expect she now entertains gentlemen at all hours of the day"
- Letting Her Hair Down: Mary is always shown at her most vulnerable with her hair down.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: John Malkovich keeps his American accent playing the British Jekyll and Hyde, though he does don an Irish accent during one of Mary's dreams.
- Oireland: In a dream sequence involving Mr Hyde, Mary imagines him with an Irish accent. It's kind of funny to listen to Malkovich try. The trope is also averted with the other maid Annie, played by Northern Irish actress Bronagh Gallagher using her own accent.
- One Steve Limit: In the brothel, Sir Danvers calls out "Mary!" and Mary thinks he's talking to her - but he's summoning one of the prostitutes.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Julia Roberts was torn apart for this when the film came out.
- Perspective Flip: Told entirely from the perspective of Mary and the servants.
- Sailor Earth: Mary herself is one. In the original novel, only Jekyll's butler was named so it was of course very easy for Valerie Martin to insert Mary into the story.
- Scar Survey: The good doctor examining Mary's scars, in a non-bedroom variant, though it's nevertheless sexually charged.
- Scenery Porn: Completely inverted. Numerous shots of dreary streets and dingy places, but lit and framed in nice ways.
- Shirtless Scene: Jekyll and Hyde towards the end.
- Shout-Out: To Dangerous Liaisons, starred both by Malkovich (Jekyll/Hyde) and Glenn Close (Mrs. Farraday). Also, same director and screenwriter.
- Shrinking Violet: Mary hardly dares to stutter some conversation.
- Slipknot Ponytail: Mary's hair comes out of its bun when Hyde attacks her in the lab.
- Softspoken Sadist: Mary's father, seen in flashbacks, has a rather unassuming voice.
- Truer to the Text: The film is more faithful to the original novel than a lot of the adaptations. Obviously besides Mary as a POV character.
- "What Now?" Ending: Mary walks out of Jekyll's house, presumably to find another position, uncertain of her future now.
- Whoopi Epiphany Speech: Mary is the poor lower class Irish maid - who says to Jekyll that she'll no longer care what the world thinks of him.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Rats in Mary's case. She also confesses she's terrified of having bad dreams.
- You Dirty Rat!: Mary is terrified of rats, so her father would punish her by locking her under the stairs with a rat in a sack that would inevitably bite its way free.