Top positive review
143 people found this helpful
on 12 December 2005
Charles Dickens was a master of the English language, writing with a depth of characterisation that predated social science explanations of behaviour and describing his world in a manner so visual you wonder what he could have done with access to a film camera or two. Justin Chadwick and Susanna White, directors of this epic, 2005 BBC production had access to a camera or two, and have produced a masterpiece of television drama.
"Bleak House" was published in nineteen monthly episodes during 1852-53. The television dramatisation, in fifteen episodes, effectively replicates this. The story, which revolves around the long drawn out court case of Jarndyce versus Jarndyce, exposes the corruption and claustrophobic inertia of the Victorian legal system. Dickens's novel is a vast satire of lawyers and the deathly grip of class and status. He weaves together an epic tale with a cast, if not of thousands, then at least more extensive than other novelists would trust themselves to handle.
The television production has 45 principal characters and over 80 speaking parts. It is a mark of the quality of the original novel and of Andrew Davies's adaptation of the text that the complexity of the story grabs and holds your attention. There's satire, comedy, drama, pathos, romance, social commentary, a murder mystery, a few other mysteries, a whole world of characters and stories.
And the cast is outstanding. There's not a weak link to be seen. This is almost a who's who of the British acting profession, and everyone will have their own favourites. I'd single out several. Gillian Anderson gives a faultless performance as an English noblewoman. Denis Lawson is a wonderfully sympathetic John Jarndyce, the voice of decency. Charles Dance has such villainous presence. Johnny Vegas makes a wonderful Krook. Burn Gorman is Guppy, a decent, slightly sinister, young clerk desperate for respectability and acceptance. And Anna Maxwell Martin gives the central role of Esther such depth and conviction. But, my absolute favourite is the wonderful Phil Davis … "Shake me up, Judy".
The actual novel is presented by two narrators: Dickens has an impersonal narrator writing in the present tense and commenting ironically on corruption, greed, abuses of power, and the plethora of social ills he exposes and satirises in this work. He also has Esther's written account, presented in the past tense, a diary reflecting on her life with optimism and hope. Such a structure must have made the translation of a serialised novel doubly difficult. The translation works superbly.
Esther - wonderfully played - acts as the focal point, as the central character around whom the other tales revolve or intersect. She's also the caring heart of the novel - in the face of corruption, lies, obsequiousness, brutality, poverty, and abuse of power, she conveys genuine, unselfish love of humanity and honesty. The camera, meanwhile, gives us the impersonal view, peering into the bleak worlds of its characters, exposing their frailties.
This is brilliant television drama, filmed in a sort of noir style - shadowy, candle or gas lit, sinister yet optimistic. The serialisation - eight hours of it - works wonderfully. The DVD will offer insight into the making of the production and the demands made of cast and crew. This is television drama which will stand the test of time and surely become recognised as a triumphant production. Outstanding acting, outstanding script, outstanding direction, outstanding production, and a DVD you will treasure.