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Bleak House is not a book I have read. I was however aware that the
central story concerned the never-ending courtroom litigation of
Jarndyce versus Jarndyce. As a child, this book, I decided was way too
boring to read. How wrong I was. I never dreamt that a Dickens novel
could become such an obsession in later life.
This dazzling adaptation is serialised in the same way that Dickens serialised his masterpiece in the popular press. Each half-hour episode ends on a cliff-hanger. We, the viewers, are forced to count the days until the next episode is screened. ( and there is only 6 more to go!!!) It is impossible to find fault with the production. The characterisations and directing are the best I have seen from the Drama Department of the BBC. They have managed to capture the gloom, grime and squalor of the late 19th century convincingly.
Each actor is ideally cast. Charles Dance as the lawyer Tulkinghorn is evil personified. Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock, totally unrecognisable from her X-File days, is fragile and enigmatic. Particularly noteworthy in the host of Dickensian eccentrics are Pauline Collins as Miss Flite, Johnny Vegas as Krook and Philip Davis as "Shake me up Judy" Smallweed and Burn Gorman as Guppy. However it is invidious to single anyone out of such a stellar casting.
I cannot give this drama a higher recommendation
With just one episode broadcast, it's clearly possible that the BBC
Drama Department may have it's second big success of 2005.
With an Andrew Davies script you know what you're getting, predictable, competent, unimaginative but faithful. Whether this series will go down with the classics or not will be down to the direction and the performances. And the signs are good. Very good.
Gillian Anderson fans looking in may miss her first scene, there is no trace of Scully whatsoever. People who've always suspected her of having more talent than she's had the opportunity to show are going to be saying "I told you so" to anyone who will listen for the next few months. She's that good. But Bleak House has the strongest cast we've seen in an adaptation since Brideshead. We've seen enough already to suggest that it's going to be full of gems And Anna Maxwell Martin, almost a TV débutante, may just be about to turn in one of the top central performances of recent times.
Set your videos and PVRs and don't miss a minute.
It'll be better than Rome.
(Update) We're halfway through and it's brilliant. Dickens can't write a shallow character so it needs a lavish cast to do him justice and that's what we have here. Gillian Anderson is brilliant, Charles Dance is memorable, Carey Mulligan, Pauline Collins and Johnny Vegas are outstanding, but Anna Maxwell Martin and Burn Gorman are just out of this world. I feel sorry for our American friends, impatient to get started but also jealous that they have the whole thing to look forward, to whereas we are now, sadly, over halfway through.
If you really can't wait, get the DVD of North & South (2004) and watch the adorable Anna twinkle in that.
Gillian Anderson is luminous as Lady Dedlock in this adaptation of Dickens's Bleak House. She is helped by the highly atmospheric, Gothic type lighting in many of the scenes which mirrors the dourness and dirt of the era. Particularly effective, are the parts shot in the squalid Victorian homes on winding staircases with peeling paint. Although not yet complete, this is a joy to watch with just the right balance of suspense and comedy. I have had to restrain myself from dipping into the book to find out the ending. I can't remember the last British costume drama I saw which showcased as much acting talent as this, whether it is the dastardly lawyer played by Charles Dance or the slatternly mother who is Lisa Tarbuck; watch out especially for Pauline Collins (a known talent) and Johnny Vegas (a revelation) who are both really rather good. I believe Sheila Hancok is going to appear soon and I am looking forward to that too.
Having worked in the cinema for most of my life, I tend to regard
television - virtually all television - as shallow and second rate. But
here is a totally magnificent adaptation of one of Dickens' more
As in most Dickens, here money - a surfeit and a lack of it - structures the complex comings and goings of a labyrinthine plot. The characters are fabulous and some of them - Skimpole and Mr Guppy, for example - may very well become well-known archetypes due to the popularity and power of this adaptation, in the same way that Micawber and Fagin are. The darkness of the sets makes for some wonderfully expressive design work, and the music is brilliantly chosen.
In fact it might be perfect...it's just that Anna Maxwell Martin as the central Esther Summerson is just a bit too simpering... But when you think how flaccid Charles Dance usually is, his Tulkinghorn is a truly creepy creation.... Plenty more to come, but to date (after four episodes), this looks to me better Dickens than anything outside Christine Edzard's 'Little Dorritt' and Lean's 'Great Expectations' - and it could even better them...
I've just watched the first episode, and I thought it was the best
classic adaptation on British television for years. (I have been tiring
of costume-drama-by-numbers, and of Andrew Davies's superficial
adaptations in particular, but they've got this one right, in my
opinion). The directing is excellent, producing uniformly good
performances from the actors - even from the likes of Johnny Vegas -
and particularly from Charles Dance as Tulkinghorn and from the actress
playing Esther Summerson (a tiresomely one-dimensional character in the
The camera moves around in response to characters' actions in an interesting way, and scenes open and close with swooshing sounds of the sort used these days in sci-fi feature films, keeping things vibrant. Since the early parts of the book are the least successful, I'm sure this serial can't help but go from strength to strength.
My favourite scene was Guppy's hilarious proposal of marriage to Esther.
For me to put finger to keyboard so to speak takes something pretty
darned unusual! Bleak House is just that. It is probably the best
television I've ever seen and I've seen quite a lot.
I cannot praise this adaptation and the actors highly enough. The production sparkles and one is immediately involved with the story and the characters. I'm writing this with the series almost finished and now wish I'd kept all the recordings I'd made of it. Repeats on the whole are very run of the mill and disappointing but they can repeat this one as often as they like! I too would like it on DVD so I can watch the whole thing over again. Well done BBC..fantastic
This is a great achievement by the BBC -- at last their costume dramas
are back on track, with a great cast, all acting their socks off. It is
invidious to pick some of them out, but Esther is particularly good (it
is not easy to portray a young Dickensian heroine, as sickly sweetness
always lurks at hand). Many have rightly praised Mr Guppy, too. Gillian
Anderson as Lady Dedlock is maybe a bit too icy (frozen solid?), but
that's what the role calls for, I suppose.
Another excellent feature is the period atmosphere. There is a richness here, running right through the production. The costumes and hair are also very convincing, unlike in some recent period dramas. Here the hair actually flops around as it should, and the costumes look like real clothes.
Some people hate the gimmicky camera work and 'whooshing' noises. These will make the production date. (They'll look ridiculous in a few years' time, I fear), but I didn't find them too distracting.
This must be the BBC's best since the 1995 Pride and Prejudice.
Half-way through this version of Charles Dickens' weighty novel seems a
good time to comment on it. The BBC have taken the view that, as Bleak
House was originally presented to its reading public in short magazine
instalments, it is a good idea to present it in half-hour segments
twice a week in the soap opera tradition.
Andrew Davies, who has adapted other books before such as Pride and Prejudice and House of Cards, has done an excellent job here - tweaking and inventing as you must to make television drama work, but without losing the context of the piece.
Despite the jarring camera work and bitty scenes, there are some outstanding performances here - Charles Dance as the scheming lawyer Tulkinghorn; Denis Lawson as John Jarndyce, attracted to his ward Esther despite having paid for her upkeep since she was a child; Pauline Collins as Miss Flyte, ever twittering on alongside her caged birds about 'the day of judgement'; Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock, who tries to hide her mysterious secret; Johnny Vegas, who fits the character of drunken landlord Krook like a glove; and many others.
There are also witty and perceptive cameos from the likes of Richard Griffiths, Matthew Kelly, and Ian Richardson.
I would have preferred to see hour-long episodes but that is only a small quibble (the other would be the invention of a character - Clamb - who seems to serve no useful purpose). This is an inventive and excellent adaptation; not replacing the classic 1980s version, perhaps, but a worthy companion to it.
An excellent series! Wonderfully shot! Gives a wonderful impression of
Of all the cast, Gillian Anderson is the one who really excels. Her Lady Dedlock is captivating, and utterly mesmerising whenever she is on screen. She is understated and alluring. From the very first episode it was apparent that she would be the one to hold the story. Her character was only on screen for seconds, but she was the one you wanted the camera to return to. The rest of the cast are also very good, but she is the one to watch.
Each episode, leaves you wanting more. The 30 minute slots are a very good idea too.
Having never read "Bleak House" this series as encouraged me to now read the Dickens novel.
My only criticism, is that I wish there were more episodes! It's a shame that the show will not run for a little while longer. It's a real treat!
I'll be sad to see it end... but can't wait for next weeks instalment!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Just got up from a viewing of Chadwick and White's BBC version of
"Bleak House" - in one sitting. Couldn't turn it off and leave it at
any time. I hardly know where to begin my praise, and I most surely do
not know where to end. "Bleak House" happens to be my favourite Dickens
novel, and I would have thought it impossible to make a truly
successful film of this vast work on the power of goodness in a rotten
world. Well, part of the key, of course, is that it runs eight hours,
but the fact that it never drags, not for one minute, is not entirely
Mr. Dickens' feat - the success rests by and large on the most eminent
editing that I can remember to have seen. The cutting among the many
stories contained in the novel is executed so skillfully that we never
feel for one moment that the film takes us where we are not dying to
go. The main characters are wonderfully cast, and somehow Carey
Mulligan and Patrick Kennedy steer clear of turning Ada and Richard
into a goody-goody and the proverbial rake. Anna Maxwell shines above
all others as Esther Summerson, but hard on her heels are Charles Dance
who avoids making an out-and-out villain of Tulkinghorn, Burn Gorman's
wonderfully touching Guppy (extra credit to him for hitting the mark in
a role that begs to be grotesquely overacted) and Harry Eden's Jo. But
then again, there's not a false note in this entire production. Gillian
Anderson, too, deserves mention. Not cul-de-sacked by her X-file past
(in which she was brilliant, btw & imo), she delivers a marvelously
restrained Lady Dedlock. Top notch acting.
I am not easy to shake up at the movies anymore, although I have occasionally experienced a lump in my throat, what with the recent fashion in tearjerkers, but I am not ashamed to confess that I cried like a flogged nun at the death of Jo the Crossing-sweep, and again at the final reunion of Esther Summerson and Lady Dedlock.
Surely, this is Dickens as he should be. I wish he could have seen it.
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