|Index||5 reviews in total|
I remember watching this series in 1976, transfixed. From the start,
the brooding, stirring theme music (by Carl Davis)draws you into the
Dickensian world. The acting is faultless and excellent. Many of the
actors were some of the finest British actors going at the time and
they were only playing the bit parts; e.g. Alfie Bass, Ronald Lacey.
Some of the actors would go on to make big names for themselves. Warren
Clarke (one of the then established actors) who played the infatuated
schoolmaster, is not only well known for the current Dalziel & Pascoe,
but has a highly distinguished film career including being one of the
Droogs in A Clockwork Orange. So fine is the acting and production that
you simply believe in the characters and become part of their world.
Oh, and the story is cracking as well!!
The later version was OK, but I do not understand why the BBC chose to redo the novel when the apex had so clearly been reached. That it is not available on DVD or even VHS is, in my view, a travesty. I will be lobbying the BBC but I wouldn't hold one's breath.
If you get a chance to see this version, grab it with all your might
A fine adaption of the book, soon to be available on DVD again. While I
found the later 1998 BBC version well played, I think that this version
was more powerful in that the characters were really brought to life by
the actors in this version.
Many of the key parts were played by actors who were destined later to become household names. Jane Seymour's portrayal of Bella Wilfer was particularly inspired as she made the selfish, shallow, spoiled yet beautiful young woman really live, repelling and attracting at the same time. Lesley Dunlop as Lizzie Hexham made me really wish for her eventual happiness.
Another great role was that of Bradley Headstone who was played by Warren Clarke, familiar to British viewers as the policeman Dalziel in "Dalziel and Pascoe". He put real menace into the part of the disturbed headmaster.
Even the minor roles were played by some of the finest actors of the time, Alfie Bass et al.
This version will be available again from April 2008.
I thought this version was much superior to the 1998 version. Enough time was taken so that minor characters like Fascination Fledgby, Jenny Wren, Charlie Hexam, Mrs. R.W., and Mr. Twemlow could be fully realized. In the shorter, later version even the main characters get short shrift sometimes. In this one Mr. Boffin's descent into miserliness is given plenty of screen time, as is his relationship with Silas Wegg (Alfie Bass having a very good time in the role). The acting is wonderful by all the cast, but I must give top marks to the incomparable Leo McKern as Mr. Boffin. A young Jane Seymour is perfectly cast as Bella Wilfer, and has good chemistry with John McEnerny as a compelling John Rokesmith. Lesley Dunlop brings both strength and sensitivity to the role of Lizzie Hexam. Warren Clarke is chilling as the obsessed Bradley Headstone, and Nicholas Jones catches all of Eugene's conflicted soul. Like another reviewer, I am lobbying the BBC to bring this out on DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The 1998 version of 'Our Mutual Friend' is one of my favourite TV book
adaptations, but I am pleased that this 1976 production is finally
available again. It is well worth discussing in detail as a stand-alone
production in its own right, but I will leave that to other reviewers.
What intrigues me is how two comprehensive dramatisations of the same
book came to be so different.
This version is the most faithful to Dickens in both story-telling and performances, but that is not always a merit.
Inevitably, both versions have many scenes in common, but there are some slight differences. This version includes scenes (and expanded scenes) that I would have liked to have seen in the 1998 version. For example, the early scene with Charley and Lizzie looking into the embers of the fire helps establish their relationship and her 'fancies'. The scene where Harmon (in disguise) gets Riderhood to retract his accusation against Gaffer Hexham redresses the most questionable aspect of Harmon's behaviour and is sorely missed in the later version. This version also makes it slightly clearer that Charley's selfish objections to Eugene Wrayburn aren't completely unreasonable (he fears the seduction that Wrayburn eventually contemplates) and it is more specific about the burying and unearthing of the various wills.
On the other hand, I regret the loss of the Laemmles, which is symptomatic of the major weakness of this production: we don't see enough of the fashionable world into which the Boffins and Bella are abruptly pitched. This was probably due to budgetary constraints, but it means we only get half the story. One of the triumphs of the later version is the startling visual contrast between the murky world of the poor, with its muted, muddy tones, and the glittering world of the rich - flooded with light and saturated with vibrant yellows and greens.
Overall, I feel the 1998 version tells the story more effectively - partly because it doesn't try to replicate Dickens's own method.
Dickens disperses his complex plots over a wide range of characters. Each chapter just inches the story forward, but is worked up into a richly detailed scene, reflecting Dickens's love of the theatre. However, this means that characters disappear for long stretches so it is easy to lose track of them and their role in the story. Dickens can mitigate this by prefixing each scene with a retrospective narrative bridge.
This 1976 version is structured in a similar way, with a stately procession of lengthy scenes, but without the narrative bridges, so at times it feels a bit disjointed
This is partly dictated by the medium. Videotape is difficult to edit, so directors tend to shoot whole scenes in a single take with multiple cameras, switching from camera to camera while the scene is in progress. This favours fewer, but longer, scenes - as in a stage play. Actors often prefer to work this way, but it does mean they don't have the luxury of fine-tuning their performances, line-by-line, as movie actors can. It also means that the camera is not always in the best position to punch up a line or capture a necessary reaction shot.
The 1998 version was shot on film and is structured more like a movie. It trims individual scenes and sharpens up Dickens's sometimes prolix dialogue. It continually inter-cuts between the various plot strands, keeping everything in better focus and inserts Dickens's narrative bridges in correct chronological sequence so the story flows better. In this version, I was struck by how long it takes to introduce all the main characters. For a while, I feared that Mr Venus had been cut altogether.
The use of cinema technique means that the staging in the 1998 version is much more precise, so the big set pieces are all more powerful and emotionally affecting (compare the two versions of the big revelation scene that exonerates Mr Boffin). Basically, the camera does much more work.
Then there are the performances.
In virtually every case the later ones are vastly superior. In this version, even when we have good actors giving good performances, such as Leo McKern, Warren Clarke, Jane Seymour and Ronald Lacey, they are still overshadowed by Peter Vaughan, David Morrissey, Anna Friel and Timothy Spall. In most other instances, the discrepancy is even greater. The 1998 version is already an unparallelled feast of great acting when, at the very end, up steps Robert Lang's Mr Twemlow to steal the whole show with his only speech (sadly missing here). In Hollywood, they will tell you: "If a performance is good, that is the actor. If all the performances are good, that is the director." Take a bow, Julian Farino.
However, these performances are not necessarily more faithful. For example, while Dickens had enormous sympathy and respect for the poor and dispossessed, he was a man of his times and found it hard not to patronise them. This is evident in his treatment of Silas Wegg and Rogue Riderhood and is accurately reflected in the playing of Alfie Bass and John Collin. But in the 1998 version there is no hint of condescension in the fierce, envious malice of Kenneth Cranham's Wegg and the cool, calculating villainy of David Bradley's Riderhood. Dickens might well have approved of this change of emphasis.
From the Fifties through to the end of the Eighties, the BBC utilised live broadcasting and videotape to bring us consistently excellent dramatisations of classic books. This version of 'Our Mutual Friend' is a good example of what they could achieve and it deserves to find a whole new audience today.
However, in the Nineties these serials were upgraded to film. Actors may regret this, and the extra cost may mean there will be fewer classic book adaptations in the future, but a comparison of the videotape and film versions of 'Our Mutual Friend' shows that there is no going back.
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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