By pure coincidence I read Bleak House twice just before it was shown on television. I enjoyed it so much the first time that I just had to read it again. When I heard of the BBC dramatisation I was pleased because it is always interesting to see if the casting of the actors and actresses matches the reader's own visualisation.
There were many performances to enjoy including the perfect casting of Alun Armstrong as Bucket and Hugo Speer as Sergeant George. I also felt that Denis Lawson as Jarndyce, Patrick Kennedy as Richard, Carey Mulligan as Ada and Anna Maxwell Martin as Esther did exceptionally well in their key roles.
Having said this, the reason I am writing this review is that I feel compelled to acknowledge what I consider to be the greatest television performance I have ever seen by any actor or actress. I am not a fan of the X-Files, and have seen no other films in which she has appeared, but I consider that Gillian Anderson has given the performance of my lifetime.
I would like to understand and try to explain to myself why it is that I can only watch Gillian's scenes as Lady Dedlock with tears in my eyes, not just once but every time.
In Pride and Prejudice, I was captivated by the performances of Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as their mutual dislike turned to love. I read somewhere that Colin Firth strived `to do nothing' in certain scenes, a difficult thing for an actor to do, and maybe that was part of the reason for his outstanding success.
In Pride and Prejudice the communication is between the actors, Lizzie and Darcy. By this I mean that the viewer is not directly involved but can experience the joy of their love affair as it gradually blossoms. However, by contrast I feel that in Bleak House the main line of communication is between the character, Lady Dedlock, and the viewer.
Lady Dedlock has all the barriers up to everyone she knows. This has the effect of making the viewer the only person who understands her. There are many close up profile shots of Gillian - and what a profile! - where little or nothing is said but the viewer telepathically knows what she is thinking and feeling.
The beautiful blue eyes, trembling lip and fantastic body language scream noiselessly at you - isolation, despair, hopelessness, defiance! The tiniest of facial changes, such as when she seems to acknowledge Sir Leicester's profound love for her, pull your heartstrings in a way that I have never before experienced from a television show.
Her proud, disdainful manner, exceptional ice-queen beauty and yet utter vulnerability make for a potent and heady portrayal. You want to reach out and help her but you cannot. When Jarndyce and the girls ran through the rain to the summerhouse and encountered Lady Dedlock sheltering from the storm what a moment that was. The guarded dialogue that followed, the dismissal of Hortense with the latter walking barefoot through the wet grass, was terrific storytelling by Dickens.
Finally, and on a lighter note, it was amusing to see that Lady Dedlock's face appears alongside a lobster and lettuce in the opening credits - no, really! Mention should also be made of the nice little double act between Krook and his cat, Lady Jane. What a cat!