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99 of 100 people found the following review helpful
on 23 December 2003
I just want to put in a word for the crew that filmed, lit and designed this. It is ravishing and the attention to detail is astonishing. At almost any point you can freeze-frame the action and the result is like something you'd see in the National Gallery. Technically this is by far the best thing the BBC has done for years.
It's also much blacker than Dickens usually is, despite being basically, a happy tale. The blackness, especially in the first half, comes from painstakingly researched historical detail and the effort they've put into the locations: gone are the flimsy sets of 1970's BBC Costume Drama...
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134 of 137 people found the following review helpful
on 22 January 2004
Lizzi and her father earn their money with recovering corpses from the Thames. One night they find a drowned young man. It is Mr Harmon who just came back from the colonies to collect his vast inheritance. Old Mr Harmon's lawyer Lightwood and his friend Wrayburn appear on the scene, to have a look at the corpse. And Wrayburn casts an eye on Lizzie ... Lizzie's father is soon suspected of having murdered the young man, but before he can be put in jail he drowns in the river himself and Lizzie is all alone now, or is she? ...
As the the heir is dead now, the money goes to poor and simple Mr Boffin, the manager of old Mr Harmon's business. He is a very kind man, therefore he wants to support young Mr Harmon's fiancee Bella and persuades her to join him and his wife and enjoy their new good fortune with them. Bella - who didn't know her fiance in the first place and wanted to marry him because of his money - does this, of course, as it opens new and promising opportunities for her. But then she falls in love with the wrong man, who even has the cheek to propose to her: John Rokesmith is Mr Boffin's secretary and poor as a church mouse. Mr Boffin is outraged by Rokesmith's proposal to Bella and throws him out. Now Bella has to face a difficult decision ...
While the Boffins and Bella have some fun with the inherited money it appears that melancholic and bored Mr Wrayburn, who couldn't be bothered with life before, has fallen in love with Lizzie. But Lizzie has disappeared after her father's death and doesn't want to be found by him. And Wrayburn is not the only one who wants to find her...
I loved the series! The setting was really great, from the dirty cramped houses of the poor to the large houses of the rich, everything appeared really authentic. And the characters were marvellous and absolutely original as if they stepped out of Dicken's pages directly into the film. Where do they get these faces??? I especially liked Peter Vaughan as Mr Boffin and Kenneth Granham as Mr Wegg, the sceeming crook. And then of course Paul McGann as Mr Wrayburn. He plays these world-weary characters very well.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 23 September 2007
This series sets out to enthrall and entertain and accomplishes both in superb fashion.

It's a complicated story, with many well-defined characters, and it's a bit of a chore to keep them sorted, but it's worth the effort. This is a tour de force of production and acting. It's a little gruesome in parts, but it brings home the look, the feel, the dirtiness and -- almost -- the smells of riverside London. The additional background interviews with the producers and actors is worth watching for the history alone.

The fly in the ointment in the DVD version I watched (in the USA) is that the screen aspect was slightly compressed, narrowing the facial features. A minor gripe and readily ignored.

Dickens lives!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 23 September 2007
I don't know how I missed this when it came on TV back in 1998 ... but I'm sure glad I found it now.
This is an extremely good adaptation of a very readable Dickens novel - if you haven't read the novel, I'd recommend it. This adaptation cleverly keeps 90% of the original story while leaving out a couple of minor characters that add interest to the novel but are not necessary. The casting, locations, storyline, everything are spot on and it is a cracking story.
If you are a fan of costume drama, you really don't want to miss this one.
Oh, and have a go at the book, too - but give yourself a lot of time, it's MASSIVE!
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
I freely admit, I find Dickens' books unreadable and adaptations of his books usually unwatchable (I except the recent version of Bleak House).

I only watched this adaptation because of the cast and I was bowled over. It's beautiful to look at, I read the book afterwards and could see all those vivid images and the characters as protrayed by the actors in my mind in a way that I doubt would have happened if I hadn't seen this adaptation.

There are so many scenes which are stunning to look at. Perhaps that brings me back to my reason for not liking Dickens - that the characters are somehow lacking and that the background is more important. But speaking as a Dickensaphobe, I felt the background did the job and I was utterly enthralled.

The most haunting character for me was Bradley Headstone played superbly by David Morrisey. A truly wonderful portrayal of a man in torment, trying so desperately to keep a lid on things.

The women characters (often in Dickens novels seeming to me to be a bit too simpering) were strong. In the case of Lizzie Hexham (Keeley Hawes) gentle but without being a doormat. Bella Wilfer (Anna Friel), a bit flighty but fundamentally decent.

Eugene Wrayburn (Paul McGann) the bored lawyer who is woken up by the sight of Lizzie and the enigmatic John Rokesmith, Steven Mackintosh, the other stand out star so far as I am concerned. I can't describe his performance without giving the plot away but he shows so many moods, form the gentle to the terrifying.

Even if you don't like Dickens, you will like this.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on 18 May 2006
Simply the best Dickens adaption [big or small screen], that includes the recent 'Bleak House'. It's fairly obvious that somebody has read the book and extracted all the important plot strands and meaning and put them into a fantastic 3 hours of telly. Seeing Rogue Riderhood on the screen is an absolute joy. There are some big name actors/actresses in this but it doesn't detract. If you like your drama to be intelligent with meaning then you will enjoy this.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 6 March 2012
The BBC classic literature dramatisations have come a long way since the good old days when the budgets scarcely ran to convincing cardboard scenery. 'Our Mutual Friend' has clearly had money thrown at it and both the presentation and the cast are dazzling. The script manages to include most of the key characters and actions, and if you miss Fascination Fledgeby and a real role for the benevolent Mr Riah (Dickens' apology for Fagin) you will find everyone else you can think of.

But, while my reaction is overwhelmingly positive, I do have some reservations about the way in which the need to cast beautiful people in key roles helps to turn some of the book's major themes on their heads. And if you belong to the 'who cares what Dickens wrote?' club, then you may wish to stop reading now.

For all the manifest qualities of this production, the very glamour of it seems to subvert the thrust of the Dickens text. Lizzy Hexham, played by the lovely Keeley Hawes, is supposed to be a diamond in the rough. It is her inner qualities that attract Wrayburn - the greatness of soul which shines through the dirt and grime of a riverside upbringing. In the original, the key theme of personal merit transcending the ring-fencing of social difference, lends real weight to the significance of Wrayburn's attachment. In the BBC version, Lizzy is beautiful, well-scrubbed and talks as though she had just graduated from finishing school. No great credit to Eugene for fancying her a treat then; who wouldn't?

Lizzy is further enhanced by the casting of David Morrisey as Bradley Headstone. In the book, Bradley is about as unglamorous as they come and, while his defects of character shine through, one is left with a strong suspicion that Lizzy rejects him because he is simply unattractive in a fairly obvious and slug-like way. So, for all his hard work to raise himself to a position of social and moral respectability, he is rejected, at least in part, because Lizzy just doesn't fancy him, despite his hard-earned worthiness. It does, however, help (mercifully) to undermine the ever-present sense of Little-Nell goodness that can make Dickens' female characters a touch wearing.

In the BBC version, Morrisey's Headstone would be eminently eligible were his defects of character, augmented by Lizzy's hexing of him, not quite so manifest. But, for all his brooding good looks, in the BBC version Lizzy turns him down, despite his being a hunk. What a good, noble, angelic and generally perfect young lady, alas.

OK, these things matter to me, but not to everyone and, those reservations aside, this is splendid television. If only the BBC had had the courage to cast a couple of ugly actors in key roles then a very good production could have been superb.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
I remember seeing this excellent adaptation when it first came out on BBC TV, one of a long and very distinguished list of productions of classic novels ('Bleak House' and 'North and South', both of which were wonderful, have been more recent examples). It just seems to be something the BBC do very very well. The recent ITV adaptations of Jane Austen have seemed pedestrian, unnecessarily quirky and inept by comparison, with the possible exception of 'Northanger Abbey'. Anyway, this Dickens adaptation has all the familar hallmarks - a very strong sense of atmosphere, particularly in the scenes on and by the Thames, a screenplay that is both clear and inclusive, managing the complex array of characters and plot development very expertly, excellent direction and some wonderful performances, particularly from Keeley Hawes as Lizzie Hexham and David Morrissey, rivetingly watchable as the agonised, monstrous schoolmaster Headstone. When I first saw it it sent me off to read the book (which is marvellous) and I was again impressed by how faithful and powerful it was. Highly recommended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2003
Beautiful period piece with a twist of mystery. The actors are superb. Special mentions go to the actors (Sorry, I Do not know their names!) that play Mr Wigg (the calculating crook) and Mr Headstone (the dangerously obssessive schoolmaster).
If you like a good story well told, you will certainly love this!
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
In my opinion, this is the best period drama the BBC has ever produced. I know that Pride and Prejudice was excellent, but this, I feel, is in another league altogether. I watched it for the first time when I was about 15, and I remember counting off the days each week before my next helping would arrive. Years later, and it's maybe the most treasured dvd in my collection. I ration out my repeat viewings, though, for fear of going to the well once too often, but just thinking of it is like thinking of a vast, multi-layered box of delicious chocolates. There is so much to enjoy, so many exceptional, finely drawn characters, such attention to period detail in the sets and costumes, and the acting is - to a man and woman - flawless. Absolutely flawless.

It's unfair to compare Dickens and Austen, I know, and I realise that an author can't be expected to dutifully record all historical/societal features of their time; fiction isn't documentary, after all. But what I love so much about Dickens, when compared to a writer like Jane Austen, is that he delves so deep and his canvas is so broad - right from the upper social stratum to the very bottom. It's so colourful and almost sinfully rich, and the BBC more than do his work justice here. Our Mutual Friend isn't light, frothy, throwaway melodrama, it is deep and often dark - the character of the tormented schoolmaster Bradley Headstone (a truly towering performance from David Morrissey) has to be one of the most memorable, rounded, and very human villains I've ever seen.

Even though there are very dark, arguably horrific elements to the story, the wonder is that there is also comedy here (look no further than the character of Mr. Venus, beautifully portrayed by Timothy Spall), social satire, philosophical commentary and, of course, sweeping romance. Every element in this deliciously rich mixture is woven together with such skill and artistry by the BBC crew. The script is loyal and intelligent, the structure of each episode is beautifully balanced, and just on a visual aesthetic note, the photography is quite simply a joy to behold.

There is so much beauty in this production, and so much skill and passion. It's an absolute treasure, I think it almost singlehandedly justifies the license fee, and I can't recommend it enough.
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