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Little Dorrit (1987)

G  |   |  Drama, Romance  |  21 October 1988 (USA)
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Arthur Clennam returns to London after working abroad for many years with his now deceased father. Almost at once he becomes involved in the problems of his mother's seamstress Amy Dorrit ... See full summary »



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Title: Little Dorrit (1987)

Little Dorrit (1987) on IMDb 7.5/10

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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 6 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Max Wall ...
Patricia Hayes ...
Luke Duckett ...
Sarah Pickering ...
Amelda Brown ...
Daniel Chatto ...
Bill Fraser ...
Mollie Maureen ...
Diana Malin ...
Mr. Casby's Maid


Arthur Clennam returns to London after working abroad for many years with his now deceased father. Almost at once he becomes involved in the problems of his mother's seamstress Amy Dorrit and of her father residing in the Marshalsea debtors' prison. Pursuing their cause Arthur comes across a successful business opportunity and also gains a number of new acquaintances, while his and Amy's paths continue to cross. A reversal of fortune lays him low, but to fully understand how, this story must now be seen through Little Dorrit's eyes. Written by Jeremy Perkins {J-26}

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Romance


G | See all certifications »




Release Date:

21 October 1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Little Dorrit's Story  »

Box Office


$1,025,228 (USA)

Company Credits

Production Co:

,  »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The last film of Bill Fraser, who portrays "Mr. Casby." See more »


Arthur and Minnie are in the garden on an apparently warm day. Yet, you can see visible breath vapor as they talk. See more »


Version of Novela: La pequeña Dorrit (1965) See more »

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User Reviews

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23 March 2009 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

The recent TV adaptation of Little Dorrit sent me out in search of this movie version, which I hadn't seen since its original release.

This mammoth project was written and directed by Christine Edzard and is the closest that cinema has come to capturing the richness of a Dickens novel. I enjoyed seeing it again on DVD, but I was disappointed to find it was not nearly as good as I had remembered it.

The performances are variable, as you would expect with such a massive cast. However, the leads are generally pretty good.

Derek Jacobi's melancholy is always arresting (and sorely missed in the TV version) but his performance overall lacked some light and shade.

Alec Guinness effortlessly conveys the patrician pretensions of the imprisoned Mr Dorrit (better than Tom Courtney) but we don't get enough of his underlying anxiety when he is released, so his mental breakdown is sprung on us without adequate preparation.

Sarah Pickering is steered through the picture without mishap and is an acceptable Amy, but is clearly not an experienced actor and this appears to be her only screen credit.

In accordance with a long-established tradition a number of the minor characters are played by comics and comic actors. Sometimes this works, sometimes not. This movie is no different.

Patricia Hayes is a good character actor, but for British viewers she carries too much baggage. She is having to fight against her normally forceful personality to play the timorous, oppressed Affery.

Similarly, Bill Frazer is best known for his comedy work, where he typically plays a blustering bully. This comic persona is not quite right for the bogus Casby, but the problem here is not Frazer's performance but the strangely truncated part.

Max Wall was a master of physical comedy who became the darling of 'intellectuals' but he was not an actor and his Fintwinch is not a performance.

Flora was based on a woman Dickens actually knew and his depiction of her was rather cruel. Miriam Margolyes's comic monster may be faithful to Dickens but misses the opportunity to suggest an underlying sadness in Flora.

Of the comics, Pauline Quirke fares best and gives a lovely performance as the mentally-arrested Maggy.

However, my main reservations concern Edzard's screenplay and direction.

She took an unusual approach to this long book. Instead of just breaking it in half, she extracted two parallel story lines and gave us two overlapping first person narratives: Arthur is in every scene in the first movie and Amy is in every scene in the second one. I don't think this experiment really works.

The problem is that Dickens wrote very much in the third person. His complex plots are told through a wide range of characters, spanning the whole social spectrum, and the story moves forward on a broad front. In this book there is too much going on outside the direct experience of Arthur and Amy for a coherent story to be told entirely from their perspectives. Characters pop in and out of the action without us knowing enough about who they are and how they relate to the leads. Things happen without sufficient justification. For example, Pancks denounces Casby as a hypocrite without us seeing any of the hypocrisy. Important plot developments, such as the rise and fall of Mr Merdle, appear out of nowhere.

The first movie, in particular, suffers from this approach. There are noticeable gaps that are only filled in the second movie (if at all) and key narrative strands, such as Arthur's relationship with his mother, are left hanging unresolved. This leaves us intrigued and wanting to know more, which is probably why Edzard did it this way. However, it also means the whole of the first movie becomes a teaser - but it is a three-hour teaser!

I also feel that Ezard is too indulgent with Dickens's dialogue. It is often great, but he wrote for the page, not the screen, and his wordy speeches need severe editing to make them speakable. Edzard sometimes lets them run on too much, leaving scenes over-written and over-long. Overall, I felt she could have used the six hours more effectively.

I also felt that Edzard's relative inexperience as a director was evident on a number of occasions.

In some scenes, the pacing and rhythm is not quite right. In the early stages, in particular, she choreographs Derek Jacobi in slow motion and there are agonising pauses between lines. Elsewhere, her staging is often too theatrical. Characters whirl around the set, going in and out of shot at random, with the camera trailing in their wake. In simple dialogue scenes she hold shots for too long: dwelling on the speaker when when the scene is crying out for a reaction shot. Simple devices, like montages and flashbacks, are curiously unconvincing in ways I immediately sensed but cannot quite describe.

It doesn't help that the sound recording is quite poor (at least on the DVD). I sometimes struggled to pick up individual lines. When Arthur learns of a death abroad, I didn't actually hear who had died and had to wait several minutes to find out. At times, the garrulous Flora could have been speaking Martian for all I knew.

I applaud the ambition of this project, but it is a bit of a mess. It can be a moving, engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable mess. But it is still a mess. It is so manifestly a clunky piece of film-making that I am at a loss to understand the rapturous praise it has received from other IMDb reviewers.

However, I appear to be in a minority of one, so I suppose I must expect to get slaughtered if anyone ever gets round to reading my own comments.

29 of 36 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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