Dickens could have made a great career in Hollywood
Melodramatic to the utmost, this story is also rather superficial as for the French Revolution. Dickens does not like it but he has divided feelings about it. He is particularly obnoxious with the aristocrats before the revolution and does not seem to have any pity for them after the revolution and he shows them all powdered and wigged when going to the guillotine or in prison, as if on a sort of macabre parade.
He seems to ignore the Bastille was destroyed on the spot as soon as it was taken, though it might not be his mistake, like the mistake of the colors in 1789. White was the color of the king and the other colors where blue and red and they were those of Paris. The tricolor flag was still to be invented.
At the same time he is particularly hard with the hard liners on the revolutionary side, though they have some good reasons to be hard liners but does it help the revolution, is it going to bring comfort and food to the poor? The question is asked and cannot be answered anyway. The economy collapsed and the war effort sucked all energies and means. The revolution did not bring that comfortable welfare it was more or less dreaming of at the beginning and France will have to wait for the stabilization of the economy under Napoleon and the Empire to really see some better times, and yet the war effort was constantly maintained and nourished by Napoleon.
The great quality of the story is to bring together a physician who lived and worked in France for more than twenty years before the revolution and he could witness the extreme poverty of the people and condescension of the aristocracy. At the same time the daughter of this physician is in love and gets married to one of the two Saint Evremonde brothers after this particular one dropped his name, his title, his privileges and moved to England to work and live. But on a sudden whim, in a way, he comes back to Paris to support the main employee of the Saint Evremonde brothers, a rather unsavory character. He is of course arrested as soon as he arrives.
The ending is typical of Dickens. A good ending, though not entirely happy, thanks to a deus ex machina that is so improbable that we have to suspend any belief of any type to accept it. God is great for sure and miracles happen every day but that one is slightly overdone.
But the BBC more or less saves the story with a very good setting, directing and acting. Apart from some anachronistic elements the film is quite clear as for Dickens's ideology that justifies some violence because of the atrocities the aristocrats have perpetrated and at the same time his ideology is against that violence as being maybe not counterproductive but at least not very effective to produce what is expected from this revolution, that is to say human happiness.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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