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This is an excellent adaptation of a fine novel. It is always a pleasure to see Dickens´s novels successfully made into films or TV series, and this version of Martin Chuzzlewit is without question the best adaptation of a Dickens novel that I have seen. Like in most of Dickens´s works the main plot is sometimes a bit difficult to keep track of because of the many secondary plots which attract our attention, but as far as I am concerned this is not a very serious disadvantage, since the far most important element in any Dickens novel is the wide range of interesting and peculiar characters that fill the pages, and since the cast of this TV production of Martin Chuzzlewit manages to make a number of the characters even more fascinating than they are in the book. All the actors and actresses in this TV-series are good; many of them are brilliant. Most remarkable are Tom Wilkinson, Keith Allen, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Chambers, Philip Franks, Maggie Steed, and Julia Sawalha. Better acting than theirs in this production is not often seen. The entire cast seem in fact to have inspired and brought out the best in each other. An example of a character which has actually become more interesting as a result of the adaptation from novel to TV-series is the character of Jonas Chuzzlewit: Keith Allen´s interpretation lends him an even more profound air of gloomy desperation and twistedness than is expressed by the Jonas we meet in the novel. Pete Postlethwaite´s interpretation of Mr. Montague Tigg is likewise of such high class that it is almost an improvement on the book without being in the least degree unfaithful to it. I really cannot recommend this TV-series enough. People with a taste for Dickens can see it many times and still feel rewarded.
In 1842 Charles Dickens was at a critical point in his career. His
attempt at a series of stories told by different characters to each
other, "Master Humphrey's Clock", was not a success, although it
produced a popular novel ("The Old Curiosity Shop"), and a first
attempt at a historical novel ("Barnaby Rudge"). He decided to take a
trip to the United States.
The results was bad. He found Americans thievish for not giving him copy-write protection. He found them hypocrites for screaming for freedom, but winking at slavery. He found their cities far less acceptable than the English ones. There was less gentility. There was more rough edged belligerence (especially to the old enemy: England). He hated it. He returned to England and wrote "American Notes". The book roundly attacked the Americans. He was not forgiven for years.
He compounded the act in his next novel, "Martin Chuzzlewit", from 1843 - 1844. In this period, ironically, he was to start writing his small Christmas novels, the first of which ("A Christmas Carol") would become immortal - far more than "Chuzzlewit" actually did. But "Chuzzlewit" is regarded by critics as the best of Dickens comic novels. Yet if one person out of five reads the novel today I'd be surprised.
The novel deals with young Martin Chuzzlewit (Ben Walden), who is apprenticed to his cousin the architect Seth Pecksniff (Tom Wilkinson). Pecksniff is the British equivalent of Moliere's Tartuffe - the arch-hypocrite. As "tartuffel" is the term based on Moliere's character, so is the word "peck-sniff" due to Dickens (in "You Can't Cheat An Honest Man", an angry Mr. Belgoody - Thurston Hall - tells off Larson E. Whipsnade - W.C.Fields - calling him both a tartuffel and a peck-sniff). Pecksniff, pretending to be religious and good, back-stabs his way through the novel, stealing ideas from other architects (including Martin), and pushing his plans to gain control over Old Martin (the grandfather of the hero), a wealthy, retired merchant. Old Martin is played by Paul Schofield. Schofield also plays Old Martin's younger brother Anthony, who has a son Jonas (Keith Allen). Jonas wants to inherit too.
Dickens had demonstrated a grasp at the criminal mind in his handling of Bill Sykes and Fagin in "Oliver Twist". But the burglar and the thief trainer were relatively simple types (although Sykes fury at Nancy and his subsequent self-destruction was unique for British literature at that time). Jonas was a higher class criminal - a murderer who did it for money, not anger. He first destroys Anthony, and then goes after his cousin Montague Tigg, a cousin who is a swindler and a blackmailer. The killing of Tigg (whom Jonas ambushes while he is riding in a gig) is based (somewhat) on the murder of William Weare by John Thurtell in 1823. But there is more than that in Jonas. He is rejected by Pecksniff's daughter Charity (nicknamed Cherry / played by Emma Chambers), who subsequently gives in to his courting - only to discover he pursued her to punish her for initially rejecting him. He is blackmailed by Tigg into investing in a financial swindle, and purposely pulls his father-in-law Pecksniff into the swindle because he hates the man. Dickens made Jonas an in depth study of evil, and he becomes a center of fascination in the plot.
Meanwhile Young Martin goes to America when he breaks with the thieving Pecksniff. He goes with his friend Mark Tapley (Steve Nicholson). They find nothing likable about Americans who are nasty brutes for the most part. They have bought land from the Eden Land Company, only to find it is swamp land. The only good point is that young Martin's personality does change - he becomes less selfish because Mark and he have to depend on each other for survival.
The other comic person in the novel is Sairey Gamp (Elizabeth Spriggs), a drunken midwife who assists Jonas at times. She keeps her acquaintance Betsy Prigg (Joan Sims) informed all the time of her best friend, Mrs "Arris". George Orwell puts it into proper perspective: More details are given about Mrs. Harris than found in any biography about a real person - for only the drunken Mrs. Gamp sees Ms Harris. Betsy finally calls her up short on this claiming, "I don't think there is such a person." Horrified, Mrs. Gamp insists there is. Later, a desperate Jonas requires a woman to watch someone - Mrs. Gamp, almost heroically, pushes for Mrs. Harris.
The series was quite good in what it showed from the novel, but it cut out the entire American section - really the heart of the novel as it deals with the hero. It was found to be too negative an image. Whether it was or not it weakened the production. What is left is quite good, but one wishes the American chapters had been left in as well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was absolutely stunned by this BBC-miniseries: it's almost perfect in
every way. It succeeded in producing the exact atmosphere of Dickens'
novel as I recall it, with all the fine irony, the dark and the good
sides of human nature, the description of the beautiful countryside as
well as the ugly corners of the big city, the sumptuous costumes, I
could go on and on, everything seemed to be in perfect place and
exactly right. Like in most of Dickens' novels there are so many
characters that you'll sometimes get a little confused, but in this
mini-series there's ample time (some 6 hours!!) to let all the stories
and side-stories roll by in their own pace and develop and intertwine,
there's never any feeling of haste or too much density. On the
contrary, I even had the feeling that some of the characters got more
room than even the (overcrowded) novel itself provided.
For all the aforesaid due credit should go to the director (and to the writer, who did a great job in translating some 700 pages of Charles Dickens into a manageable script). The fact, already mentioned by another comment, that the whole American section of the novel is left out, didn't bother me that much. Of course that story is important for the novel and particularly for the personal growth as a man of young Martin, but it's almost a novel within a novel, and since with the adaptation of novels of this scale one always has to make some concessions, it seemed a very sensible choice to comprise the American adventure to some reading of letters and one or two short scenes. To me at least it worked adequately.
But now about the actors, they really deserve the highest credit, it's unbelievable how a whole cast can be of such high standards, it really was a treat to watch and it almost makes me ashamed to pick some of them out! But I have to mention Tom Wilkinson as the hypocritical, greedy en pompous Pecksniff, Wilkinson plays him SO good and convincing, if there's an Oscar for best actor in a miniseries HE should have won that with this one!! Equally good and entertaining was Pete Postlethwaite and I also should mention Elizabeth Spriggs as the scruffy, boozing and ad-libbing Mrs. Gamp, the "nurse" who you wouldn't trust with your worst enemy let alone with a patient! And Julia Sawalha (Absolutely Fabulous) and Emma Chambers (Notting Hill) as the Pecksniff-offspring are not only hilarious but also develop their part in a very convincing and in the end touching way. And, on the other, more dark side of the spectrum of Dickens-characters: Keith Allen as the ominous Jonas Chuzzlewit, who's actually blood-chilling in his portrayal of a cruel and relentless son and husband.
And so I could go on, until even such small parts as the spicy young Bailey (Paul Francis - how DO they get such a young kid to play so natural and easy?!). If any, to me there's only one minor flaw in this production: the role of young Martin Chuzzlewit by Ben Walden. I don't know what to make of it. Here's a young actor with a handsome yet rather uncommon face, an awkward way of acting and a curious almost mumbling kind of diction! He seemed a strange choice to play one of the major protagonists in the story. But another comment on this site mentioned of him, that he "casts a spell with his eyes and voice", so maybe that's another way of looking at him.
I give this production a heartfelt 10 out of 10.
This was a novel about dishonesty. Dishonesty ranging from mild
deception to robbery and murder most foul. And it is the dishonest who
are the most memorable characters in the book - and in this TV
adaptation. The tone too, ranges from comic to the most sombre shade.
At its most comic is Sairey Gamp, grubby drunken "nurse" to the sick
and helpless. Her dishonesty is as much self deception: the constant
good opinion of herself held by the mysterious never to be seen "Mrs
Harris" which Sairey Gamp endlessly quotes to the increasing irritation
of her partner in nursing (and in drink) which leads to an explosive
comic confrontation between all - three? Remarkable actor Pete
Postlethwaite performs a remarkable transformation from down and out
Tigg Montague to grandest of swindlers Montague Tigg, founder of The
Anglo-Bengalee Assurance Company whose prospectus promises a paid up
capital of "a two and as many oughts as the printer can get in the
line". Dishonesty of another kind is represented by one of Dickens
greatest creations: the odious sanctimonious hypocritical
serial-forgiver and would be seducer Pecksniff (excellently played by
Tom Wilkinson). Finally dishonesty of the blackest kind is represented
by Jonas Chuzzlewit, murderer for money -with poison and bludgeon. When
justice catches up with Jonas, actor Keith Allen vividly portrays a man
suddenly in the shadow of the noose. In comparison the good, the
prudent and the merely imprudent (Tom Pinch, Old Martin Chuzzlewit, and
young Martin) are in comparison and perhaps inevitably - as in the book
- a little colourless.) The silly recklessness of Mercy Pecksniff and
the sour realism of her sister are particularly well brought out.
Finally the dialogue - its unobtrusiveness as it goes between Dickens'
original and David Lodge's own is exemplary. So too is the distinctive
music - often with a loping rhythm suggestive of careful and wary
A really excellent and entertaining production with a fine cast giving full measure to the most memorable characters and scenes. It is difficult to imagine it being bettered.
I read that someone called it a dark and gloomy adaptation. I have to
disagree with that ! I thought it
a very funny TV-series.
Of course there's a lot of scheming and some people get treated very badly. But all the characters are
played in such a manner that you can't help but see them as ridiculous. Tom Wilkinson is marvelous as the pompous Seth Pecksniff and i would like to mention Elizabeth Spriggs who makes her part as Mrs. Gamp unforgettable. If you like a period drama with a good deal of humor this one is for you ! The series lasts 337 minutes. It's a shame that it's still not released on DVD.
Let's hope we don't have to wait too long ! If you like the wit of Jane Austen you will like this series
too ( yes there is a love story in it as well).
Although this BBC production of "Martin Chuzzlewit" from 1994 is not
widely known, it is definitely a very good one. The characters are true
to Dickens' novel, some of them being rather multi-layered, such as the
bitter and twisted Jonas Chuzzlewit, very well portrayed by Keith
Allen, or the desperate young Martin Chuzzlewit (Ben Walden), who from
his very first scene casts a spell with his eyes and voice.
For those BBC drama collectors who consider buying the video: This is not as light as the fine Jane Austen film versions, but rather dark and gloomy. In my view this contributes to the film's attraction, and I can recommend "Martin Chuzzlewit" without hesitation.
A piece of advice concerning the videotape: Watch it as soon as you purchased it because there are some tapes on which visual noise appears every now and then. You might perhaps have to exchange it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the first Dickens full novel adaptation that has not greatly
disappointed me. Far from it. This was wonderful! I had just finished
the book when I watched it (as always), and so was keenly aware of
alterations, and there were quite a few, which I'll get to presently.
However, with one notable exception, this production did not suffer
greatly for the deleted or redesigned sequences, as all other Dickens
adaptations seem to. This success I believe is creditable first to
diligent and careful writing - to David Lodge (who hasn't done any
Dickens since, which is a shame). He clearly knew the work intimately,
and had studied the story and characters in great detail. To distill
and, as needed, to disassemble and reassemble a novel of this breadth
to fit into a six hour production, without trampling and flattening, or
mangling, the story, and without omitting significant characters or
subplots, is a rare accomplishment.
I don't know much about directing, but I know when it stinks, and I know when it's good, and in this case it was excellent. I don't know Pedr James, but for his direction he surely deserves a large share of the credit for this fine production.
The casting of this production was genius, and the performances consistently outstanding. In particular, among the major roles: I couldn't imagine a better Seth Pecksniff than Tom Wilkinson, and he was brilliant as always. He seemed to truly enjoy this role, and oozed imperious Pecksniffian arrogance and false modesty. Paul Scofield as Martin Chuzzlewit was equally wonderful, and so deliciously playful as he came to life and sprang the trap into which he has lured Pecksniff. Pete Postlethwait was marvelous as Tigg Montague/Montague Tigg, a difficult double role of sorts, and so closely resembled in appearance and behaviour the character I imagined as I read the book, that I'm not sure I ever had any image of Tigg in my mind but his. Philip Franks as Tom Pinch nearly steals the show (as does the character in the novel), with a perfect portrayal of that subtle combination of sweet naiveté, chivalrous dignity, and defender of the meek and decent that is Tom Pinch. Elizabeth Spriggs breathed, as it were, liquor-saturated life, into one of the most uniquely Dickensian characters (and a bizarrely dialectic one too) in this story. Marvelous! Keith Allen provided a Jonas Chuzzlewit perhaps even more vile and sinister, and ultimately self-tormented, than the one Dickens himself conceived. Likewise, Emma Chambers' Charity Pecksniff surpassed the original, owning every scene in which she appeared, and simultaneously evoking great empathy for the wrong done to her by her father, and antipathy for her own callous treatment of her sister.
The high quality of writing, direction and performance in this series were further complimented by excellence in all artistic contributions, from set design, costume and make-up (somebody actually read Dickens' descriptions of the characters and studied the original Phiz illustrations! What a novel idea!), and musical score, and by masterful editing, seamless and tight, with not an awkward or wasted frame.
Where I always have issues with Dickens adaptations is in the deletions and alterations that invariably occur, and that apparently must occur. This series stands out to me as one that did not suffer much on this score, even though much of the dialog was shortened, some scenes were melded together, others deleted or compressed, and time-lines were occasionally teased slightly. I hate that generally, but as I've said, I credit the lack of damage done in this process to the skill and hard effort of the writer, David Lodge. I can even forgive the significant re-writing of the climax and epilogue chapters (the omission Westlock's proposal to Ruth, of Charity being left at the alter, and of Tom in the future, at the organ, with Ruth's children) because what was done worked so well and was so fully consistent with the story and characters that it might have been an alternative ending written by Dickens himself. The one major issue I did have along these lines was with the severe watering down, almost to nothing (Mary reading letters from Martin), of young Martin's and Mark's trip to America. This was an important aspect of the novel, to which many chapters were devoted. First, this is necessary to tell the story of the critical change that occurs in young Martin when he is sick - for a month! - in Eden, (being selflessly cared for by Mark) and realizes the folly of his selfish ways. Second, the things that Martin and Mark witness and experience in America provide the reader/viewer with Dickens' own impressions of, and satirical commentary on, pre-civil war America - the slave-owning, ill-mannered, ever-spitting, money-grubbing, agrammatical, thieving, vain, violent, ignorant, swindling, bastard kin of the mother country. It's hysterical! I'm sure it was cut for political correctness, and that is sad.
I believe that this is as close to a perfect production of a Dickens novel as can be done in a six hour time-frame (other than the unfortunate treatment of the American episodes). To truly do full justice to a major Dickens novel, I believe a production must devote one full hour to each of the original 'episodes' as published (three or four chapters were published each month - all of Dickens novels were first published that way). Because Dickens wrote in this episodic way, there is a built in episodic quality to his work, and it is therefore already organized for the corresponding number of film episodes. Martin Chuzzlewit was published in 19 episodes (18 months with a double episode the last month). The best possible adaptation, in my opinion, would follow this episode list.
Martin Chuzzlewit as written by Charles Dickens becomes another of his
young men who rise to success stories with a combination of their own
perseverance and an unseen hand of fate which seems to be in control of
destiny. Others like this are the more well known David Copperfield and
Pip from Great Expectations.
There are two Martin Chuzzlewits, the first is the young Dickensian hero who is played by Ben Walden and there is grandfather Martin Chuzzlewit who is Paul Scofield who also plays his own brother Anthony Chuzzlewit.
The old Martin is one rich dude who is a doddering and miserly sort of man worried as to who might deserve the riches he's accumulated in life. Scofield has a flock of relatives who are hanging on every word and every breath hoping to find favor with the old guy. For strangely enough he's cut off young Walden and now the rest of them just think his fortune is up for grabs with his dying breath.
The worst of the Chuzzlewit relatives is a cousin named Seth Pecksniff who is an ostentatiously pious and inwardly scheming individual. He worms his way into Scofield's confidence and tries to undermine everyone else so that he and his daughters may profit. He's not above using his daughters for that end either though the daughters played by Julia Sawalha and Emma Chambers. Pecksniff is one of Dickens's most enduring if villainous characters and here he's played with full unctuousness going on all cylinders by Tom Wilkinson.
One of the daughters in fact at Wilkinson's urging marries an equally villainous cousin Jonas Chuzzlewit played by Keith Allen to further the Pecksniff fortunes. He also takes in 'students' to 'learn' architecture and he's got a lovely racket there in passing off promising student's drawings as his own work and living off the money they pay him to allegedly learn. He deals young Walden dirty that way, but most catch on to him including Walden with exception of good hearted Tom Pinch played by Philip Allen. Even he gets wise at one point.
Martin Chuzzlewit was written after Dickens had returned from an American tour and part of the novel has young Martin and a friend going to America to seek a fortune of his own. Dickens was not happy with what he saw in America and the Americans you see here are a merciless bunch of greedy film flam businessmen. That part of the novel got a short shrift in this production.
Considering how Dickens portrayed some of his own countrymen I can't really fault him for writing what he saw in the USA of the 1840s. Just the Chuzzlewit family or most of them are enough to make you gag.
This is a fine BBC productions impeccably cast and giving us a good picture of the United Kingdom of the early Victorian years. Best in the cast is Tom Wilkinson as Pecksniff. The word itself became a noun in the English language for hypocrite just mccarthyism became a synonym for slanderous accusation without proof.
When one of your characters becomes a noun, that's the greatest success you can have.
Tremendous adaptation of the Dickens novel the author himself
considered his best work.
Perfectly cast in every role its difficult to single out any one as best. Scofield of course is brilliant but perhaps the real standout is Phillip Franks as Tom Pinch, outwardly an odd looking man who possesses a soul of great compassion and kindness he gives an emotional heart to the entire enterprise. Set in beautifully realized surroundings with impressive attention to detail and directed so that the story never bogs down and focuses too long on any one plot thread this is perfect for any fan of the BBC or classic literature.
Martin Chuzzlewit is perhaps not Dickens at his best but it has the ingredients that make him such a great author in the first place and it deserves to be better known. This 1994 adaptation is fabulous in all areas, one of the best Dickens adaptations of the past 25 years. The production values are splendidly evocative, not too bleak or too squeaky clean, and the adaptation is shot with natural skill. The dialogue is very Dickenesian, with its fair share of funny and affecting parts, while the story while leaving some things out is compelling and faithful in spirit and style to Dickens, respecting his work rather than disregarding it. The pace is just right, the drama is given time to breathe but there's no signs of tedium, while as to hope from a Dickens adaptation the characterisations are rich. Of the fine performances, Tom Wilkinson dominates, a brilliant performance and he hits the arrogant and hypocritical sides of Pecksniff spot on. Phillip Franks is incredibly moving as Tom Pinch. Paul Scofield's titular character is played with splendid dottiness and the much missed Pete Postlethwaite is superb, and we also have an unforgettably hilarious Elizabeth Spriggs and Keith Allen who has never been better. All in all, an underrated book given classic treatment. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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