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15 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Excellent adaptation

Author: Mark Bricker from New York, NY
13 November 1999

I rented this video mistakenly believing that it was a Masterpiece Theater offering. Initially, I was disappointed to see in the credits that it came from the Disney Channel. But only 15 minutes into the story, I realized that this was an excellent adaptation of Dicken's story. The period atmosphere was excellent, as were the costumes and sets. The acting was first-rate, particularly that of Tom Courtney as Quilp and Sally Walsh as Little Nell. Both of these parts could have been played too broadly by less accomplished actors. Sally Walsh's role could have easily become cloying, but she played it with radiant innocence. The villain, Quilp, might well have turned into a scenery-chewing, comic overstatement played by anyone but Courtney. I highly recommend this mini-series to anyone who enjoys film adaptations of 19th century British novels.

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16 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Outstanding adaption

Author: Dillon Naber from Lancaster
22 January 2000

This is a great movie. Very well acted by all the main characters, and the setting is superb. A wonderful story of human tragedy and triumph. Anyone who is a fan of Charles Dickens will love this movie. The attention to period detail in the costumes and scenery is very good. Some lessons can be learned about human nature as well from this story. Highly recommended.

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11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Dickens as Dickens should be

Author: Thomas Honoré Nielsen from Varde, Denmark
2 April 1999

This TV series is really brilliant and more over not as sobbing as Dickens often tend to become. Peter Ustinov is almost a guarantee of success but actually it is Tom Courtenay as Daniel Quilp who makes this rendition of a dramatic tale outstanding. He is nothing less than excellent. His facial expressions are as vivid as Tom Cruise's are not, not to mention his hobgoblin' about.

Should you get the opportunity to see it, please don't rob yourself of an exquisite piece of drama.

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11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

The best Dickens-adaptation for TV that I've yet seen!

Author: johannes2000-1 from Netherlands
26 July 2006

As a big Dickens-fan I read the book a few years ago and thought it (along with Dombey and Son) one of his best: a road-movie-like coming-of-age story that gives us some of the finest (and most hilarious) of Dickens-characters, like the notorious Quilp, his mother-in-law, Dick Swiveller and the Brass-siblings, and a beautiful description of the English countryside. Although there is a fair amount of (melo)drama involved, Dickens succeeds in keeping a light tone and an fine calculated balance between the laughs, the tears and the fast-paced intrigue. It's some 600 odd pages (in my Penguin copy), and like with all of Dickens' novels I usually am disappointed in any adaptation for the screen: there's just too much going on in the book, too many important characters, too many story-lines, and the necessary cuts - even in the more spacious room of a mini-series - have a way of cramping up the story and caving out the depth and shades out off many of the side-characters to leave them the outline of a mere caricature. So I was very surprised to find that this adaptation completely proved my prejudices wrong. This is an excellent movie! It's very true to the book, almost all the characters have kept there place and there own special charms, and the tone of the movie has exactly the right balance of lightness and seriousness. I had the impression that all the main characters and plot-lines of the novel found (thanks to some very good writing) there place in the movie, apart from leaving out one schoolboy-character who dies somewhere in the middle of the novel, evidently the writer and director found two child-deathbeds a bit too much (as I thought so too when reading the novel, to be honest). The acting is overall great and by some of the cast superb. Peter Ustinov for instance is very convincing as the grandfather who is full of love for Nell as well as full of sinister secrets and he plays his role with a kind of modest dignity. Sally Walsh is excellent too, of course she had the burden of a Dickens-heroine and has to be throughout the whole of the movie this endearing spotless angel. This can easily result in an irritating goody-two-shoes, but Sally Walsh succeeds in keeping up a strong and sympathetic character with just the right mixture of half-child, half grown-up person. However, the undisputed star of this version is Tom Courtenay as the infamous Quilp: the sinister face, the spasmodic movements, the lisped voice and the sardonic humor are brought with just the right amount of restraint to make him totally believable. A special mention should go to William Mannering, the young actor who plays Kit. He didn't have much screen-experience at that time, judging from the information on IMDb, but he gave a great performance an moved me to tears at the dramatic ending. The direction by Kevin Connor was very good, as was the beautiful photography and settings. An absolute 10!!

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9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

In an outstanding production,Tom Courtney stands out.

Author: philtrau-2 from New Orleans, LA
21 January 2000

For anyone who loves Dickens, this is going to be a surprise of the best kind. Few productions can capture the details that make Dickens' words come alive. This version of The Old Curiosity Shop does more with an empty set than most do at full steam. The set design strengthens every performance, adding nuance and flavor to actors who are already working at the peak of their craft.

If this seems like slavering, it's only because something of this quality comes maybe once a decade. The cast is a director's dream, and each member delivers just the right spice to this dish.

With so much excellence, it would seem incongruous to isolate any single aspect as standing out, but Tom Courtney, as the menacing Quilp becomes the very heart of Evil around which all this revolves. And a more entertaining Evil you will never see. He makes Quilp a fascination first to last.

This is a recommendation for anyone; and a must-see for Dickens fans.

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

The Kindness of Strangers.

Author: Robert J. Maxwell ( from Deming, New Mexico, USA
26 May 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

First-rate adaptation of a typical Dickens story. An old man given to gambling (Ustinov) and his granddaughter, Little Nell (Sally Walsh), find themselves broke and being dunned by the money lender, Quilp (Tom Courtenay). Unable to pay off Ustinov's debts, the pair sneak off with very little money and make for the West Country, by the sea, where they run into various sorts of strangers, some kind, some treacherous. All the way, Quilp's minions are after them. It isn't the money that bothers Quilp. It's the possibility that if Ustinov and Walsh escape, others will no longer fear him.

A surprising number of names have entered our Lexicon from Dickens' works, considering that he was an English novelist from the 1840s who is rarely read by most of the people who recognize names like Ebeneezer Scrooge, Mr. Bumble, Fagin, The Artful Dodger, and Little Nell. What better name can we have for the lawyer in this movie than Sampson Brass? Dickens sort of edges crabwise into our consciousness every once in a while. You know, "God bless us, every one." Or, "If that is the law, then the law, sir, is a ass." Or, "Please, sir, I want some more." He didn't make up Simon Legree, although he should have. Dickens was all alight with social conscience, especially where children were concerned. And when poverty hit, it could be severe, as his works illustrate.

This film captures some of the poverty but not as well as David Lean's earlier adaptation of Dickens. The film is made for TV but the production values are still good and the design evocative. The Old Curiosity Shop is filled with all kinds of junk -- ticking clocks, suits of armor, stuffed antelope heads, dolls. Looks rather like my place. The sets and outdoor locations are hardly vast. This isn't an epic production. But they're evocative and clever.

The performances are all fine as well. The cockney accents are sometimes daunting and some words must be understood in context, as when "child" becomes "chow." Of course, the Dickensian dialog can be peerless. "Oh, joy! What a reversal of desolation!" (Sometimes it sounds like W. C. Fields, only Dickens makes it less deliberately pompous.) Acting: Good, all around, but Tom Courtenay, as Daniel Quilp, has never given a better performance. Courtenay is no longer recognizable as the clean-cut innocent young man of forty years ago. (Who is?) Quilp's criminally fraudulent money lender is an affable, greedy, kyphotic, snaggletoothed hobgoblin of a bugaboo. He's as coarse as they come. It would have been easy to treat the role seriously and turn Quilp into an unalloyed and generic personification of evil, but Courtenay gives him character. He smiles with sarcasm and makes gargoyle faces at people.

Peter Ustinov is stiff with age, alas, though it fits the role, and Sally Walsh as Little Nell is winsome, perceptive, and ultimately vulnerable. Infectious diseases abounded in 1840s Europe. Quilp's office is located on the London docks where an early scene shows us fishermen with nets. It's hard to imagine what they might have caught in the Thames of 1849 except cholera.

Pretty much a winner, given that the story isn't as gripping as some of Dickens' other tales. Little Nell may die a peaceful but tragic death, yet she doesn't have to wait around to have her head cut off by a guillotine.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Really nicely done

Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
7 September 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My first exposure to The Old Curiosity Shop was through the Derek Jacobi/Toby Jones adaptation, that respective year's literary adaptation of the Christmas break. Without having read the book beforehand, that was surprisingly good, Jones' Quilp was particularly memorable. Since then, I saw two other adaptations and read the book. The book is not one of Dickens' masterpieces(better than Barnaby Rudge though at least) but if you love Dickens everything you love about his writing is in The Old Curiosity Shop, so it is a highly recommended book. Whimsical, intense and with some of Dickens' best comic scenes.

The other two adaptations were a 80s low-budget animated version from Australia and this one, the 1979 TV series is very high on the must-see-but-not-yet-watched list. The animated version was pretty poor really and only had the background art going for it.

But this version is very good and really nicely done, of the three adaptations seen it's the best. It's very beautifully photographed with countryside scenery to die for, true to period costumes and is reasonably evocative. The city settings could have looked a little more grim though, occasionally they did look too clean. One of only two things that the Jacobi version did better, the other being the handling of Little Nell's death. Still moving here but also a little discreet whereas it was heart-breaking in Jacobi's. The music never overbears things, neither does it feel too low-key, while the dialogue is intelligently adapted and easy to understand.

The story keeps one's attention throughout and doesn't feel overly-simplified(certainly not to the extent of the 1974 TV film of Great Expectations), the basic gist of Dickens' writing and such are intact. The pacing is fine on the whole, with only a couple of scenes like the schoolmaster scene that were a little on the rushed side.

And the performances are excellent, the secondary roles are very well filled and true to Dickens. Peter Ustinov is in more restrained mode here than usual, and gives a charming and compassionate performance that is capable of both quirks and nuances. At no point to this viewer did he feel hammy. Sally Walsh is radiant and innocent as well as allowing us to identify and sympathise with her. She's also closer in age to the Little Nell of the Jacobi version and doesn't fall into the trap of being cloying and bland. But it's Tom Courtenay who takes the acting honours, a fine and sometimes under-valued actor Courtenay is literally unrecognisable and gives an extremely vivid and sinister performance(especially in the facial expressions). Toby Jones brings out more of the twisted dwarf part of the character but Courtenay is much creepier and much more vivid.

So all in all, very good version that works as an adaptation and on its own. 8.5/10 Bethany Cox

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0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Bright and Breezy

Author: keith-moyes-656-481491 from United Kingdom
23 May 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Despite the weaknesses of the book, I have long wanted to see a really good adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop.

This is not quite it.

It was shot in Ireland with a largely local cast and crew, but it is Disney through and through.

The production design is mediocre. Nothing looks quite right or quite in period. The sets are all too raw and new and because nothing was properly aged even the dank alleys and crumbling wharves of Victorian London look too clean and pristine. The cinematography doesn't help. The whole film is flooded with light and there is too little contrast between the grimy gloom of the city and the freshness and vibrancy of the countryside. Overall, it is one of the less atmospheric Dickens adaptations I have seen.

The director, Kevin Connor, was obviously under instructions to keep the tone fairly light and he tends to downplay the menace and danger and anguish of many of the scenes. He does have fun with the dream sequences and these scenes give a glimpse of what the whole film might have looked like if Connor had been given a freer hand to direct it in his own way.

It also seems to have been made very quickly and on a tight budget. Although it was filmed as a TV movie, it often looks like a cheap videotape recording. Much of it is shot very simply through the 'fourth wall', with a minimum of camera set ups and relatively little cutting. I even noticed a couple of fluffed lines that were probably left in to avoid the expense of retakes.

The screenplay is a reasonable condensation of the novel. The picaresque, episodic story needs plenty of time if it is to develop at the right pace, but even at three hours this film sometimes feels a bit hurried. For example, the sequence with the kind schoolmaster passes so quickly that the character barely registers, which is unfortunate, because he later reappears to play an important role in the story. As I remember, the 1979 BBC version was over an hour longer and even that felt a bit rushed in places.

This production is not particularly well served by the actors. Some give typically ripe 'Dickensian' performances (Julia McKenzie, Adam Blackwood, Christopher Ettridge). These are fine, except that this approach is not consistent and some of the key characters are actually slightly underplayed.

For example, Tom Courtney is a good Quilp but has clearly been instructed to stay away from the 'twisted dwarf' aspect of the character. I like his performance but it could do with a bit more of the demonic energy of Trevor Peacock in the 1979 version.

Similarly, Sally Walsh is fairly restrained as Nell. She manages to steer clear of the sickly sweetness of the character, but at a cost. Her placid, undemonstrative performance is ultimately just too calm and too composed. I would like to say her performance is subtle and understated but, in truth, it is just bland.

James Fox simply walks through his scenes, probably because that is all he is capable of doing.

Peter Ustinov is wretched. No surprises there. He is a classic ham. I don't mean he overacts here; merely that everything he does is bogus. His Grandfather is just a succession of shallow tricks drawn from his over-familiar repertoire. In the right context, Ustinov can be fun and his tricks have enlivened some poor movies, but this part requires a performance not a show. However, my real objection to him is the way he seems to upstage young Sally Walsh; treading on her lines and continually drawing attention away from her with his characteristic burbling, murmuring and fluttering.

I realise I am probably being too hard on this Old Curiosity Shop because I had hoped it was going to be better. In truth, it is a reasonably accurate and faithful telling of the story and a good introduction to the book for people who have not yet read it. There are no other versions that are significantly better. I do slightly prefer the darker and more comprehensive BBC version, but it has flaws of it own and I cannot really argue it is especially better than this one.

The only real problem is that this bright and breezy production has no personality or viewpoint of its own and feels too safe and too untroubled. You hardly notice that it all ends in tragedy. The death of Little Nell, famously mocked by Oscar Wilde, is treated so discreetly that I felt they might just as well have ditched the Dickens ending and let her live. The best (and worst) I can say of this production is that it is harmless.

But Dickens is not harmless and his books are not really meant for children, so they are probably not suitable material for release under the Disney brand. If Disney had handed this project over to its Miramax or Touchstone subsidiaries and made it for general sale, rather than for showing on the Disney Channel, I suspect it would have ended up looking very different from this.

It might even have been the version I have been waiting for.

PS: I cannot change my reaction to this production, but my speculation about what went wrong has now been called into question. I have just watched Kevin Connor's Great Expectations. It is a very faithful and comprehensive adaptation of the book and one of the best and most atmospheric Dickens dramas I have seen.

It was co-produced by Disney.

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