A really fine adaptation with excellent performances and a great atmosphere
Even if the adaptation didn't work, anybody who does try to adapt the work of Charles Dickens deserves a brownie point for trying. Dickens is not easy to adapt, and the bigger and richer the book the more complicated it gets to adapt it. Our Mutual Friend, like Bleak House(which if remembered correctly is even bigger), is one of those examples. And fortunately this 1976 adaptation is an example of Dickens being adapted very well, same goes for the 1998 adaptation.
One of the things that was so good about Our Mutual Friend(1976) was its atmosphere, done in a way that is both compellingly real and powerful. It is true that the 1998 adaptation has a better contrast between the rich and the poor, but the atmosphere there didn't quite feel as powerful as it did here. The costumes and sets are beautifully produced and natural, not too clean or stage-bound and the camera work is splendid and stylish throughout, never once showing its age. The music at the start is appropriately brooding, and from then on it really fits the atmosphere and moods of each scene, and if a scene needs an intimacy it's either used sparingly or not used at all.
For any film or TV series to adapt source material, it should not only be a solid adaptation(and this doesn't mean word for word, true in spirit works just as well) but work on its own too. Our Mutual Friend(1976) does wonderfully at both. There are a few omissions but essentially this adaptation is very detailed- it was great to see some scenes that were not there in the later adaptation- and faithful in spirit. As well as told intricately and compellingly, with stately dignity. The dialogue is rich in flavour with moments of elegant comedy and heartfelt tragedy, done in an intelligent way and it is Dickenesian all over. As with other BBC adaptations from a similar period of Dickens' work, the series is long and quite lengthy with some slowness but considering the length of the book that is appropriate.
Excellent performances also help, and Our Mutual Friend(1976) has them. You can never go wrong with Leo McKern, Warren Clarke does besotted and chilling brilliantly and John McEnery's restraint and quiet authority more than compensates for that he is too old for the role. Lesley Dunlop is an appealing and appropriately honourable Lizzie, she doesn't play her as too meek like Dickens heroines can fall into the trap of being(to me how he wrote his female characters was Dickens' weak point). Nicholas Jones has a conflicted character and portrays him very touchingly. Jane Seymour plays the unpleasant and selfish character of Bella very convincingly as well as making her somewhat attractive too, it helps that Seymour was a beautiful woman and actually still is. Silas and Ridderhood and are also beautifully played and true to Dickens' concept if a little more convincing in the later adaptation. In fact everybody from the lead roles down to the minor roles play their parts well.
All in all, a really fine adaptation and recommended without hesitation. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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