If British fiction thrives in a single area, it’s probably producing compelling villains. Throughout history, authors have understood that British horror characters don’t necessarily need to be all-powerful, or even outwardly sinister. Rather, villains with psychological problems, obsessive traits, mysterious tendencies, and talents for social manipulation are often the most effective. That’s not to say these characters don’t occasionally get violent or act villainous in a more traditional sense, but rather simply that there’s more depth to the best of them than there is to most fictional bad guys.
With that in mind, here are three fictitious British horror characters that we’d love to see brought to life on the big screen, either for the first time or in a fresh interpretation.
Alec D’Urberville may not be the first character who comes to mind when you imagine those with potential as great cinematic villains, but he’s an absolutely fascinating antagonist. For those who may be unfamiliar with him, he’s part of the late-19th century novel Tess Of The D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, and he’s the whole reason the story is tragic. It’s a novel about a young, lower-class woman named Tess and the misfortunes that befall her after her family attempts to use her to reestablish a possible connection to an old noble family (the D’Urbervilles).
Alec, referred to as a “little weasel” in a thorough character analysis at Shmoop, is the son of a couple who have wrongfully adapted the D’Urberville name. He’s a little bit of a loner and becomes obsessed with Tess, pressing her to the point of discomfort and ultimately coaxing her into dark, hazy woods and sexually abusing her. That would be enough to make him a horrible villain—Tess is forced to give birth to his child, and even names the child “Sorrow.” But that isn’t all. Alec becomes a far more interesting character when Tess comes across him later in life only to find that he’s become a preacher, though the sight of Tess causes him to revert back to his creepy, obsessive self.
It wouldn’t be a cheerful film, but the right actor could turn Alec D’Urberville into a memorable slimy antagonist. Hans Matheson took on the challenge in a 2008 mini-series that starred Gemma Arterton as Tess (and Eddie Redmayne as her romantic interest, Angel). But it would be nice to see Hardy’s novel get the full cinematic treatment once more, as it did in 1979’s Tess.
Perhaps the best known character on this list, Mr. Hyde is the monstrous side of Dr. Jekyll from Robert Louis Stevenson’s legendary novella The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll is a well-meaning and brilliant man who fears the anger that lives within him, and seeks to suppress it with a serum. Instead, the serum enhances his worst traits and turns him intermittently into the evil and remorseless Mr. Hyde.
It’s an 1886 novella that hasn’t been adapted in quite some time, and yet the Jekyll and Hyde story retains a certain popularity. Most any fan of fiction knows the basics, and in fact there are a few new-ish glimpses of the characters in modern entertainment. One even exists in the library of slot arcades at Gala Casino. In fact, there are several slot reels there that use characters and imagery from fairy tales, books, film, and TV, but the Jekyll and Hyde game is among the most vividly produced. It makes great use of a creepy Victorian atmosphere, as well as images depicting the duality of the character. And gaming aside, we’re actually about to see Dr. Jekyll on screen again, because Russell Crowe has been cast in the role for the upcoming remake of The Mummy.
But it would really be nice to see a standalone film devoted to Stevenson’s novella. While there have been TV movies and lesser interpretations, there hasn’t been a major feature effort since 1941.
Jack The Ripper
We’re cheating a little bit with this last selection because, of course, Jack the Ripper is an actual historical figure rather than a literary creation. However, it’s also fair to say that his legend has grown greatly through countless fictional accounts and embellished interpretations. While “Jack” was a horrifying figure and brutal killer, there have been plenty of deadlier serial killers in history. The things that make Jack the Ripper a legend are like bits and pieces of a detective novel: the sinister nickname, the image of a dark, top hat-wearing figure on misty cobblestone roads, the penchant for killing with knives, and the fact that he was one of the first serial killers to generate news around the world.
Unfortunately, this fascinating villain hasn’t ever been adequately portrayed in film; From Hell, a forgettable 2001 slasher, was the last real attempt. The closest we get in the near future may be The Devil In The White City, a forthcoming project by Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo DiCaprio. A tantalizing write-up in the Telegraph suggested DiCaprio’s role (as the torturing serial killer H.H. Holmes) might make The Revenant look like a walk in the park. And Holmes, it is believed, took direct inspiration from Jack the Ripper in the late-19th century. But Holmes himself was an American killer at the Chicago World’s Fair, so really we’ll still be left waiting for an adequate Jack the Ripper film…