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|Index||13 reviews in total|
Little Dorrit is thought by many critics to be Dickens most important
book, a blistering attack on the evils of the Victorian world in which
he lived. Quite a bit of it came from real life. Dickens' father had
spent some time in the Marshalsea debtors prison, and several of the
corrupt landlords and incompetent officials of the book were based on
prominent real people. The establishment was NOT amused, and neglected
it so aggressively that it has always been much less well-known than
most of his work.
This film has also dwelt in the shadows. As a pair of 3-hour films that are best viewed in a single day (with a break), nobody could figure how to handle it commercially. Also, it only exists today as a long-out-of-print VHS tape and 4-disc laser set. Maybe someday the Critereon Collection will issue a DVD, but I'm not holding my breath.
Nonetheless, it was one of Alec Guinness's very best performances, and, if you love - or even just like - Dickens, the whole 6 hour total-immersion experience is magical.
Roger Ebert's review from 1988, which is online several places, really captures how special "Little Dorrit" is.
BBC Radio 3 puts out a fascinating programme each week entitled "Building a Library" in which CDs of classical works are compared and evaluated culminating with a "best buy" recommendation. This would hardly be possible with works of cinema where very rarely are there more than two versions, the first invariably the winner as a movie can only be that good to tempt a remake. I suppose one could do a "Building a Library" with "Hamlet" but I wouldn't be in a position to take that on as I only know two versions (Olivier and Branagh) really well. How about a collective "Building a Library" - film versions of Dickens, say, - now that would be a real challenge. Here goes! I won't deal with all as that would take up too much user comment space. Just a few for good measure. Remember Noel Langley's "Pickwick Papers" of 1952 - great fun with a host of good cameo parts from people such as Joyce Grenfell, Hermione Baddeley, Donald Wolfit, Harry Fowler and others but all rather lightweight compared with the rest I have chosen. Earlier still was Cavalcanti's version of "Nicholas Nickleby" for Ealing, some good sets and the scene where wicked Uncle Ralph gets his desserts wonderfully atmospheric, but so much to cram into a film of moderate feature length that scenes scarcely have time to breathe. Although a good try it all seems too rushed. The oddball in this little collection is undoubtedly a 1988 Portugese version of "Hard Times" set in modern day Lisbon by Joao Botelho, well worth seeing as a curiosity but hardly to be compared with my remaining four choices, each very special in its own right. I would have to include one TV version in my shortlist as the BBC generally do their classic serials so well and were on superlative form with their 1999 "David Copperfield", even capping George Cukor's richly entertaining 1935 film. (Just occasionally a more recent version is better!) The reason I admire the BBC version so much is the wonderful casting with Maggie Smith, Pauline Quirke and Nicholas Lyndhurst playing roles they were just born for. There is even a diminutive Harry Potter playing young David most affectingly. It is probably the Dickens adaptation that moves me the most though I suppose it has to be eclipsed by the three that have that greater degree of cinematic imagination. These are the marvellous David Lean '40s adaptations of "Great Expectations" and "Oliver Twist" and most recently Christine Edzard's "Little Dorrit". For a long time "Oliver Twist" was my favourite of the Lean pair, oodles of atmosphere, wonderful art direction and camera-work and a rooftop climax to take the breath away, but I suppose "Great Expectations" has it for libretto, late as opposed to early Dickens and Lean an ever faithful interpreter of the novel's range and subtleties. Without Christine Edzard's "Little Dorrit" it would be the winner. Her remarkable independent production for length alone (two films totalling six hours) dwarfs all contenders. She cleverly tells the same story from the different perspective of the two main protagonists, Arthur Clennem and Amy Dorrit, this "Rashomon" like approach dominating the first half of each film. The pace is leisurely but always purposeful - none of those irritating longueurs of characters taking up time to cross a street or room that bedevil so many TV adaptations. Street scenes in particular have an amazing sense of realism with hoards of people bustling along giving the feeling of just how busy Victorian London must have been, the credit sequence of Part I wonderfully effective in depicting this. We sense from this very opening the loving care with which every background detail of Dickens's vast fresco of society will be unfolded. As in the novel everything revolves around the theme of money and the misery that both possession as well as dispossession can bring. The casting is faultless with marvellous swansongs from Joan Greenwood and Max Wall and Alec Guinness possibly at his finest as William Dorrit, a superb portrayal of a shallow man with delusions of grandeur. Throughout Edzard is at pains to eschew anything that smacks of pathetic fallacy by not over dramatising atmosphere, but the film never looks plain. Although most of the exteriors are studio constructed the interiors have an extraordinary sense of authenticity down to the last detail. Everything looks and sounds exactly right such as the shabby wallpaper of a livingroom in the Marshalsea with at one point the seemingly endless buzzing of a solitary fly. Unlike the Lean films this is one that seems constructed out of everyday incidents rather than great dramatic setpieces. It is not a film that moves and excites as much while one is watching it, until, that is, the final half hour. When it reaches the tragedy of William Dorrit's mental confusion at a society banquet followed by the terrible scene leading up to the suicide of Merdle where he visits his son and daughter-in-law to borrow a knife we have the realisation that to search for an adaptation that more perfectly realises Dickens's intentions would be an impossibility.
This sprawling movie can take a lot of discipline to watch in its
but it is worth seeing just for the performances of Derek Jacobi in the
first half and Alec Guinness in the second. Jacobi is wonderful as the
gentle, unlucky Arthur Clennam, who keeps finding that through nobody's
fault, he keeps missing out on happiness. It is sweetly heartbreaking to
follow his growing affection for Minnie Meagles, only to watch her throw
herself away on a conceited young fool, whom even she seems to realize
cannot equal Clennam in worth. Jacobi has a great actor's ability to tell
story without saying a word, as when he gently drops Minnie's roses into
river and watches them float away, and we realize he is saying goodbye to
love. The scene later on in prison, when he discovers that he has missed
his chance for love again, but this time it is he who all unaware has been
the object of another's love, is breathtaking. Once again, without a
Jacobi is able to portray his anguish and the chaos of memories and ideas
that suddenly assail him, until he is almost suffocating, trapped and
helpless in his little cell in the Marshalsea.
The second half of the movie suffers from the absence of Jacobi, and I found myself eagerly looking forward to every chance appearance of his, but Alec Guinness also gives a fine performance as the indigent William Dorrit, whose sudden acquisition of a legacy not only frees him from debtor's prison, but also turns him into a heartless snob and social climber. Among the other performances in this film worth noting, is that of Miriam Margolyse as the aging coquette, Flora Finching, a kindly, ridiculous scatterbrain, talking nonstop while taking little nips out of the medicine bottle to keep up her spirits.
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.
A great novel, and a great movie. BUT! A few observations...I understand that the novel is very complex, that the plot turns in a number of layers, and that the film is already of great length. However I think it is seriously lacking to omit rather major elements and characters, such as the villain Blandois upon whom much of the plot turns. And I was disappointed as well to see Tattycoram (which would be such a delightful part for any actress!) left out. But these things aside, it is still a favourite movie which I've watched (on VHS) many times. The colourful characters are marvelously Dickensian as portrayed by the cast, most notably Guinness, Greenwood, Max Wall, Roshan Seth, and Jacobi. Has Sarah Pickering appeared in anything else? She was convincing in her character too. Though seventeen years old now, the film continues to delight and entertain, but I sure miss Blandois and Tattycoram!
"Little Dorrit" is hands-down the best movie I've ever seen. One of the
best things about it is that it is two movies telling different sides
of the same story. I enjoy watching it because I notice something new
with every viewing. If you watch one scene in the first movie and watch
it in the second movie (e.g., the "parricidal" scene), there are subtle
differences based on the storyteller's perception. In "Nobody's Fault",
when Amy comes to visit Clennam in the Marshalsea, he sees her wearing
the flowered shawl that she always wore when she was poor; when we see
the same scene in the second film, she is wearing a black shawl bought
when she was wealthy.
The acting is top-notch. The set designs and costumes are the most authentic I have ever seen. The production worked hard to match the original drawings that accompanied the Dickens novel. A sheer delight!
Have you ever wondered what they meant when they said "Debtor's Prison?" This line as pretty common place in British Films, however none more so than in The Movie "SCROOGE", with the excellent Alistair Sims. This is where the person who had taken a loan and wouldn't be able to repay it was afraid of going to "Debtor's Prison", saying " I can't take me wife to Debtor's Prison?" Scrooge then turned on him and told him it had nothing to do with his wife or with himself or that matter. And wished a god Day. Remember? Well since that time I have always wondered about "Debtor's Prison" and just what does this place do and so on. This then is what Little Dorrit is based upon, life in Debtor's Prison. Alec Guinness was absolutely Brilliant as Mr. William Dorrit, whom after having fallen on hard times, tried to maintain an air of Aristocracy, Class and Distinction even if he was in Debtor's Prison. We Watch Little Dorrit come into the world in this place and discover hat there are others who are just as bad off, yet all maintain themselves as best as they can. We see Little Dorrit grow into a fine young lady and we see what it must have been like, living in the Victorian age, of Pomposity, and Airs of Superiority and Aristocracy. "One must Maintain appearances", would say William Dorrit and so it went. This is a rather slow paced film, which only serves to add to the impression of the time. To me, this film is the ultimate look into what it must have been like to live in wretched poverty, in Debtor's prison all the while maintaining one's position in life and one's sense of integrity. Mr. Guinness was Unbelievable as William Dorrit. You knew what he was trying to do, but you also knew " As did he" how futile it all was. But as it goes along, you find your self, drawn into the movie, it doesn't speed up for you,rather it calms you and bring's you unto itself. The true mark of excellence in a truly good movie. I would highly recommend this movie, most especially as a Family viewing affair. Get out the popcorn, get all the drinks ready and anything else that you could want and when your ready, step into the magnificent world of 18th century England and live a little in a place called Debtor's prison, for about 1 and 1/2 Hrs. The cast are absolutely excellent in their individual roles. I could name them all and tell you why, but it's much better if you see them for yourself. This Film is a real Gem and a very rare treat. Happy Viewing. Warmest Regards Aaron
Having just seen the 2008 BBC version of "Little Dorrit," I was
delighted that Turner Classic Movies was showing this 1988 version. But
what a disappointment it proved to be.
Comparatively, the '88 version is much...MUCH...duller.
Instead of a roller-coaster ride of interesting characters, the '88 version is slow and plodding. The individual scenes never come to life.
Sarah Pickering as Little Dorrit never engages one's interest. And while Derek Jacobi's Arthur Clennam may be closer to the book's description than Matthew Macfadyen from the BBC version, he and Sarah Pickering have no romantic chemistry.
All in all, not an entertaining presentation.
Not terrible by all means, but I did find myself underwhelmed watching
this Little Dorrit. The book is such a mammoth book, an insightful and
blistering piece of literature, but like a lot of Dickens' work very
difficult to adapt. Previously I had seen the 2008 BBC version, which I
absolutely loved, finding the performances outstanding(especially Tom
Courtenay and Andy Serkis) and the whole production rich in detail.
I can definitely understand why some would have a lot of affection for the 1988 Little Dorrit. Production-values-wise it does look wonderful, with the sets evocatively rendered while never looking too clean and the costumes beautifully tailored. The photography is skillful as well. Miriam Margoyles and Pauline Quirke impress, but there are three especially outstanding performances. Derek Jacobi, whose Arthur Clennam is outstanding with an ability sometimes to say so much without saying much. Sarah Pickering whose Amy is every bit as appealing as Claire Foy in the 2088 mini-series, except here I feel the character is written in a more sympathetic way. And Alec Guinness, whose heart-wrenching performance as William Dorrit makes for one of his finest screen performances.
But I can also see why others mayn't like this version too much. Of the acting, I was disappointed in the Flintwitch of Max Wall, he is a good physical actor but saying his lines is another story, I felt he did overdo it. I do admire the effort to include as much of the dialogue as much as possible, but at the end of the day the whole script came across as too wordy and in some scenes overlong. In regards to the music, I preferred the simpler and more subtle one in the 2008 version, here it was overbearing and had a danger of drowning out the dialogue, then again it could've been to do with the sound which was rather muffled. But it was the pace and the storytelling that didn't work the most for me. I do think a slow pace was necessary in the first place considering the sprawling and mammoth nature of the story, but with the pauses, mumbling and lifeless crowd scenes I did actually find it almost insufferably dull pace-wise. And if I hadn't read the book or seen the 2008 mini-series, I don't think I would have been confused by what was going on in this adaptation. I didn't like that it was in two 3-hour parts focusing mainly on either Arthur or Amy and making other characters come and go without elaborating on much(such as Casby being called a hypocrite and the rise and fall of Mr Merdle for examples), as well omitting Tattycoram and one of Dickens' best ever characters Rigaud.
All in all, has some good stuff like the period detail and three outstanding performances, but pace and story-wise this Little Dorrit was disappointing. 5/10 Bethany Cox
Sadly, I don't think anyone under the age of 40 will have the patience
- or interest - to view this work of art.
I just watched this film on the "This TV" channel; curious title, but when I saw it was based on a work by Charles Dickens I decided it was definitively worth a try.
Dickens presents us with timeless lessons (very relevant to our present lives) in this film about the human condition - a tale about hard work, perseverance, humility, greed, hate, compassion, love (unrequited and rediscovered), devotion and so much more.
The film unfolded clumsily and I nearly dismissed it; so glad I didn't.
A tapestry unfolds of increasing richness and complexity. Dickens presents us with brilliant dialogue and fascinating characters.
There were empty and silent moments - almost unbearably empty . . . that shouted "LOOK & LISTEN!" - see and hear with your heart.
Emptiness bears down upon the viewer; no attempt to shelter us from those "empty" moments with overbearing background music. Nor are there attempts to shorten our discomfort - in fear of our short attention spans.
Now-a days - only a poorly funded "indie" film would dare to risk such a slowly unfolding tale; a quiet tale of a plain, delicate flower - born in the gutter; surviving via some unseen strength and resilience; humbly persevering and outshining all around her.
It is easy (too easy?) to find fault; tear apart a beautiful work such as this - and many do. But, I celebrate this masterpiece which offers us so very much.
There is treasure in Little Dorrit - for all times - for those willing to discover it.
Thank you Charles Dickens - for all your masterful works; the golden threads that unite us all.
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