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Masterpiece Theatre: Bleak House 

Bleak House (original title)
The great case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce drags on, an obsession to all involved. Then a question of inheritance becomes a question of murder.

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Series cast summary:
 Lady Honoria Dedlock (7 episodes, 1985)
 John Jarndyce (7 episodes, 1985)
Suzanne Burden ...
 Esther Summerson (7 episodes, 1985)
Jonathan Moore ...
 William Guppy (7 episodes, 1985)
Chris Pitt ...
 Jo (6 episodes, 1985)
Robin Bailey ...
 Sir Leicester Dedlock (6 episodes, 1985)
Lucy Hornak ...
 Ada Clare (6 episodes, 1985)
Philip Franks ...
 Richard Carstone / ... (5 episodes, 1985)
 Miss Flite (5 episodes, 1985)
Bernard Hepton ...
 Krook (5 episodes, 1985)
 Snagsby (5 episodes, 1985)
Pamela Merrick ...
 Hortense (5 episodes, 1985)
 Tulkinghorn (5 episodes, 1985)
 Harold Skimpole (4 episodes, 1985)
Brian Deacon ...
 Allan Woodcourt (4 episodes, 1985)
 Lord Chancellor (4 episodes, 1985)
 Judy Smallweed (4 episodes, 1985)
 Smallweed (4 episodes, 1985)
Dave King ...
 Sergeant George (4 episodes, 1985)
Heather Tobias ...
 Jenny / ... (4 episodes, 1985)
Frank Windsor ...
 Gridley (4 episodes, 1985)
Robert Urquhart ...
 Laurence Boythorn (3 episodes, 1985)
Felicity Finch ...
 Rosa (3 episodes, 1985)
 Charley Neckett (3 episodes, 1985)
Harry Jones ...
 Phil Squod (3 episodes, 1985)
 Guster (2 episodes, 1985)
Jack Carr ...
 Brickmaker / ... (2 episodes, 1985)
Peter-Hugo Daly ...
 Lizzy's Man / ... (2 episodes, 1985)
Gabrielle Daye ...
 Mrs. Rouncewell (2 episodes, 1985)
Arthur Hewlett ...
 Waggoner (2 episodes, 1985)
 Inspector Bucket (2 episodes, 1985)
Stephen Kemble ...
 Footman (2 episodes, 1985)
 Housemaid (2 episodes, 1985)
Katharine Page ...
 Mrs. Smallweed (2 episodes, 1985)
Rebecca Sebborn ...
 Young Esther (2 episodes, 1985)
George Sewell ...
 Ironmaster Rouncewell (2 episodes, 1985)
James Snell ...
 Barrister (2 episodes, 1985)
 'Nemo' (2 episodes, 1985)
Wanda Toubas ...
 Lizzy (2 episodes, 1985)


The great case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce drags on, an obsession to all involved. Then a question of inheritance becomes a question of murder.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Crime



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Release Date:

10 April 1985 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Masterpiece Theatre: Bleak House  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Last TV drama role of Gerald Flood. See more »


Version of Bleak House (2005) See more »

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User Reviews

10 September 2013 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

There will always be inevitable comparisons to which adaptation of Bleak House people prefer, this or 2005. From a personal point of view, there is no real preference as both adaptations are outstanding in their own way. And not just as adaptations, but also on their own as well, which is every bit as important. The book is compelling, atmospheric and rich in characterisation. It is a mammoth book, and one of Dickens' least accessible(from first-time personal experience, the law stuff took its time to get completely). Both are well-made, tell the story extremely well indeed and brilliantly written and acted, the 2005 adaptation's characterisation is a little richer but this adaptation is a little more atmospheric.

Not everybody will find the 70s-80s Dickens serial adaptation their cup of tea. They may find them slow, long and with a lot of talk. That isn't the case with me. Of the ones seen, they respect their source material(even with omissions and changes here and there), are detailed, very evocative and Dickenesian and are well-made, written and acted. And that is the case with this Bleak House exactly. The costumes and sets look beautiful and very detailed, succeeding also in capturing the bleak nature of the book. They are also full of atmosphere and don't come across as too clean. The music is a pleasing mix of haunting overtones and delicate chamber-music-like, and fit with each scene excellently(if occasionally a little overdone in the final episode, some may prefer the more understated nature of the 2005 adaptation).

Bleak House(1985) scores very highly in the writing stakes too. Throughout the dialogue is intelligently adapted, there are scenes with a lot of talk but they weren't that tedious to me. The heartfelt tragedy, poignancy, sharp observations and nobility of Dickens' writing comes through loud and clear- some of Dickens' other books were also whimsical and had some nice comic scenes, The Old Curiosity Shop springs to mind- and the writing in the adaptation is distinctively Dickenesian in style. Bleak House(1985) is highly successful in how it tells this great story, characters are splendidly drawn and crucial scenes have their impact.

The adaptation is long, nearly seven hours, but there's a lot of characterisation and plotting going on so interest is always maintained. Things can unfold slowly, the first episode in particular, but that shouldn't be a turn-off. The book is also huge and has so much to tell, the long length was necessary and so was the pacing. Adaptation-wise, even with the omissions of a few minor characters, it is faithful in spirit to the book and to Dickens. The acting is very fine from all, three at least even are outstanding. Diana Rigg's Lady Dedlock is haunting and aristocratic as well as haughty and anguished. Denholm Elliot is a noble, gentle and moving Mr Jarndyce. And Peter Vaughan is splendidly sinister as Tulkinghorn. Coindentally, those characters were also performed the best in the 2005 adaptation as well.

Suzanne Burden plays Esther with backbone instead of being insipid or too meek, if not as warm as Anna Maxwell Martin. And Jonathan Moore is delightful as Guppy. All the characters are beautifully performed, much pleasure can be seen in those of the Smallweeds, Mrs Flite, Inspector Bucket, Sir Leicester Dedlock, Krook, Harold Skimpole and Jo too. All in all, a superb adaptation. 10/10 Bethany Cox

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