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4.8 out of 5 stars356
4.8 out of 5 stars
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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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 January 2007
The BBC decided to screen this adaptation initially in 30-minute episodes, two a week, like a soap. Unexpectedly this worked quite well, but more because of the excellence of the production than because of their quirky manner of showing it. Seen on DVD, when you can watch as much as you wish, it is even more powerful. The cast is astonishingly good - many famous names (Warren Clarke, Pauline Collins, Phil Davis, Matthew Kelly, Alistair McGowan, Anne Reid, Ian Richardson, Liza Tarbuck, Johnny Vegas, Timothy West) taking roles which they inhabit as if they were made for them. But the central roles, of the unfortunate litigants in the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, the corrupt lawyer Tulkinghorn (Charles Dance, menacingly lizardy), kindly John Jarndyce (Denis Lawson) and above all Gillian Anderson as the chilly and tragic Lady Dedlock and the heroine, Anna Maxwell Martin as Esther Summerson (described in Dickens' character list in the novel as 'a prudent and wise woman and a self-denying friend') are even better. The sets are totally convincing, Dickens's huge compass of characters and events is covered entirely satisfactorily, the complicted plot emerges clearly and there are moments of great pathos and genuine dignity. But above all is is absolutely riveting (and perhaps that is why the BBC's cliff-hanging original approach was not so daft after all). Anyway, I cannot recommend this too highly. It is really wonderful.

P.S. (25th. December 2009) I see Carey Mulligan, who played one of the wards of court in this production, has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her work in the recent film 'An Education' - in which she is indeed excellent.
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on 4 March 2006
I waited to get this on DVD rather than watch the half hour chunks on the TV. I know it was screened like that to reflect how it was originally published in serial form blah blah but I like to get settled in!
Anyway, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Its true to the novel and contains the usual array of Dickens' grotesques, complex plotting and social commentary - but this version is fast paced, beautifully acted and completely absorbing. Some of the characters get on your nerves (eg dripping wet Ada and wearying Lady Dedlock - although you'll fall in love with Gillian Anderson in the role despite wanting to give her a good slap and a double espresso!)but thats just a feature of the book. The characters are obviously of their time and act in ways frustrating to us now.
Its got some of the best villians I've seen for a long time (Charles Dance and Phil Davis both brilliant)and the central female character (Miss Emmerson? can't remember, must be going senile) is played superbly. She gives hope to many a plain girl as despite being disfigured by smallpox she still has the men falling over their feet to get her. Lots of lovely cameos as well and Johnny Vegas is brilliant as a fat, illiterate, alcoholic. Who'd have thought he could play illiterate.
On top of all that it looks fantastic and the settings, costumes etc fully satisfy all us period drama lovers.
Buy it, take the phone off the hook and settle down to 8 hours of wonderful TV.
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VINE VOICEon 29 October 2008
I first saw this fine series watching a friend's DVD, upscaled on a PS3 on my 1080p TV. It looked perfectly fine, and my partner and me loved it. It's a wonderful show with all-round incredible performances from every single actor. The script is wonderful and the direction and production design second to none. That's why we bought it ourselves on Blu-ray. And wow. While the DVD looked very good indeed, we could not believe just how crystal clear it looks on Blu-ray. It's quite breath-taking, and I'm not just saying that. The series is shot with vast amounts of black and a very muted colour palette, which can often lend itself to graininess when dealing with older material shot on film. Bleak House was shot with HD cameras and the results are here for all to see. Of course, technical achievements are meaningless without a strong script and convincing performances, but that's not a worry here.
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on 11 December 2006
It's a pity that one reviewer's annoyance with the release policy (see below) has reduced the customer star-rating for this series to, currently, only three stars. Perhaps awarding it five stars herewith will redress the balance a bit, because this is definitely five-star stuff.

The acting is universally excellent and a complicated plot is told with great skill and subtlety. Even if the screen version doesn't follow the story in every detail, the atmosphere is authentically 'Dickensian' throughout. The viewer soon becomes emotionally involved with the characters, not least because both caricature and sentimentality - which can be hazards with Dickens adaptations - are successfully avoided. A thoroughly enjoyable series.
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on 29 July 2008
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!
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on 22 July 2008
After wondering if the difference between a decently upscaled dvd and the blu-ray would be significant enough to double-dip, I took the plunge. Having just watched Bleak House on blu-ray and after doing a comparison with the standard dvd I can tell you now that the difference is staggering. Details on things such as food and clothing are clearly defined, whereas on the dvd they appear to be a bit of a blurry mess.
Some dvd's I have are so well produced that the image quality on the blu-ray version is, honestly, only a minor upgrade. In the case of Bleak House, however, I will repeat that the increase in definition is incredible. All that love this series should immediately sell their dvd's and purchase the blu-ray. I guarantee you will be amazed at the difference.
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on 7 January 2006
For 8 weeks, I was glued to my TV screen on a Thursday and Friday night watching the 30 wonderful minutes of Bleak House. This is probably the best Dickens adaptation I have seen, and I urge you to see it too. The performances are universally brilliant, the costumes, sets, cinematography...basically everything, was just excellent. The BBC have made some fabulous dramas in the last few decades, and this is up there with the very best.
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on 12 March 2006
This is the dvd version of the fifteen part television serial of Bleak House.
Based on the book by Charles Dickens this adaptation concerns the complex case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Despite many years of time in court the case has never been satisfactorily concluded as there are so many wills to take into account the case is somewhat unclear.
Running alongside this are the lives as the Wards of Jarndyce and Esther Summerson. There is a large scandal involving Esther and it is not until the end of the story that all becomes apparent.
This adaption has a strong cast of well-known characters who give a splendid performance and add to what is already an extremely good narrative.
Having watched the televised version of this I did not expect to get a great deal of enjoyment from watching the dvd so soon. Surprisingly I enjoyed it all the more and look forward to watching it again soon.
My only criticisms of this dvd are the lack of any extras or bonus features and the flimsy quality of the packaging.
Definitely one for everyone's collection!
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on 12 March 2007
This series was an almost perfect adaptation of Dickens' novel. The cast was uniformly excellent, but for me Gillian Anderson's Lady Deadlock and Alun Armstrong's Inspector Bucket were outstanding.

The only reason I am giving the series four stars instead of five is that I felt the ending was to rushed. The 1980's adaptation, with Diana Rigg as Lady Deadlock, allowed sufficient time for the drama of Lady Deadlock's disappearance and tracking down develop into the climactic drama it is in the novel. This adaptation cut the chase too short.
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