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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 13 January 2015
This is a remarkable creation from a golden age of telly drama. Beautifully adapted by Arthur Hopcraft (perhaps best known for his BBC dramatisation of 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy') this was Granada TV showing its muscle in what is now hideously termed 'costume drama'.

Perhaps it's appropriate that the production was mounted by Granada Television, based in Manchester. The whole story is played out among the dark satanic mills of Coketown, a red-brick industrial hell set firmly in the north of England. The windswept moors, the smoking chimneys, the bad weather and the bleakness do not let up from beginning to end. Even the sheep cry there.

The series begins magnificently, with the arrival in Coketown of 'The Horseriding' - a travelling fair, complete with tumblers, acrobats, clowns, dogs, jugglers, contortionists and what-have-you - all in the most superb slightly-frayed-at-the-edges garb that has obviously seen hundreds of performances across country. Full marks to the costume designer (Esther Dean, who went on to design 'The Jewel in the Crown' - need one say more ?) for making the clothes as believable as the characters who wear them. The opening shots are powerful stuff, the music and bright colours of the fair set off against the mud and drab squalour of the back streets.

In 'Hard Times' we are presented with a grim-faced Dickens, in some ways at his most realistic and extreme. The tale is a feast for actors able to cut the mustard, and in this 1977 production we have Patrick Allen, Timothy West, Rosalie Crutchley, Alan Dobie, Jacqueline Tong and Edward Fox in an ensemble of British Talent that is not paraded by the publicity department for its Star-factor, but works together beautifully as a company of good actors who know precisely what they are doing with well-directed and stunningly produced material.

The four 50-minute episodes are wonderfully written to catch the essence and meat of the book, and they are allowed to take their time - which does NOT mean they are slow! There are golden moments from just about everybody, Timothy West's Josiah Bounderby taking the prize for self-important bluster from a man who never tires of telling us how self-made he is.

The studio sets, far from looking 'dated' look pretty darned good, and are as well-dressed and well lit as the actors in them. The filmed sequences are grainy and bleak, like the weather in Coketown, and the whole thing has more atmosphere to it than many a present-day high-tech-high-speed example of 'period drama', weighed down as it so often is by wall-to-wall incidental music and effects.

The actors know how to use their voices properly, and to effect. They don't mumble. They don't sound as though they've been hoiked out of the local am-drams - and they aren't swamped by the weather/waves/machinery/rotten acoustics and other trappings of location filming that we are now regularly force-fed by the bucketload. We can hear what they are saying, and what they mean - and clearly: funnily enough, the words really matter. The words are a huge part of the tragedy that unfolds before us. Yes, it's not unlike watching a play in a theatre, and it needs our concentration. So we have to concentrate, and whatever's wrong with that ? It's what makes - or made - television drama special. When it is.

With 'Hard Times' we are watching a production of the highest quality, worthy of our greatest respect. There are few enough equivalents coming off the production-line these days, however much the industry hype and spin try to convince us otherwise.
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on 6 April 2015
I loved this adaptation when I first saw it nearly 40 years ago and I loved it now. Hard Times is not Dickens's best novel; some of the characterization is weak and some plot lines unconvincing. The casting here is so fine that it almost improves on the original. Timothy West's memorable Bounderby is an award winner from the moment we first see him, Rosalie Crutchley is hilarious as Mrs Sparsit , Edward Fox is superb as Edward Fox, sorry Harthouse and Alan Dobie and Harry Markham bring a moving dignity to their characters. But the real hero of the book is the imaginary town of Coketown. Even without the benefit of modern technology, the grimy smog ridden northern town and its miserable inhabitants are brought magnificently to life. So why not quite 5 stars? The omission of the splendid scene in the book where Bounderby and Sparsit get their comeuppance for their hypocrisy is a shame, presumably shoe horning the adaptation into the time available, as it makes the ending slightly unsatisfactory.
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VINE VOICEon 6 October 2009
In the three decades since this won a number of awards our expectations of costume dramas have changed somewhat. One can't watch this studio-bound adaptation, shot on tape rather than film and with no music soundtrack without noticing the difference to today's productions. However, that said, it's still a fine affair. The script is funny, the acting is generally good and in the case of Timothy West as Bounderby is outstanding (the way he plays the character is a clear precursor to what must surely be his definitive role, that of Bradley Hardacre in Brass - The Complete Series [DVD] [1983]). The late Rosalie Crutchley also deserves a mention for her performance as Mrs Sparsit and Edward Fox has fun playing Captain Harthouse as, well, as Edward Fox. Dicken's messages are left as unsubtle as they are in the book, but that's probably as it should be.
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on 5 December 2005
When I saw this adaption in 1977 ,,,I was overwhelmed,.The cast is beyond perfection.I am astonished that so many of the actors did not find their way into other similar productions over the years,,,which makes this mysterious.I have been trying to find this tape ever since.It is poignant to the point of heartbreak,,but always exceptionally true to the spirit ,,so familiar to Dickens lovers,,,of life on the fringes of society ,,,.Endless villains,,,and priceless heroines,,,hypocrisy etc. I am quite humbled to think that these people did such a splendid job and excepting Timothy West, whose career is much heralded,,,I feel the extraordinary vision,in the lesser knowns actors' portrayel is an incredible secret for those fortunate enough to experience this tale and adds a kind of intimate mystery ,rare,,in the world or recorded arts
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on 8 January 2012
Dickens has rarely been done better on television or film. 'Hard Times' is a comparatively short Dickens novel. It has been criticised for being too polemical, for being more parable than novel. This production demonstrates that it has such firm lines of characterisation and plotting that the polemical element can be sustained without sacrificing intellectual and emotional impact. There is no need for me to go into the philosophical issues the author takes up - the story says it all, and this 1977 Granada series does them justice. The whole cast is impeccable. The art direction is stunning. The direction, camerawork and editing are faultless. There is, inevitably, some wear and tear in the image: television material from this era often did not preserve well. By that standard, this is not at all bad. The drama realised here, however, carries any technical shortcomings lightly. Fact: this is exceptional viewing.
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on 16 March 2012
This is a rare production of Dickens by ITV but it is very well done. Dickens was also in unfamiliar territory here, namely a Northern milltown. It is beautifully acted and not as studio bound as some previous reviewers suggest. The only disappointments in the adaptation are the omission of Bounderby's come-uppance and no reference to what happened eventually to the main characters. I particularly liked the acting of the 2 young women here; Jacqueline Tong as Louisa Gradgrind who has had all romantic and artistic emotions knocked out of her by her upbringing, and Michelle Dibnah(whatever happened to her?) as the caring and loving Sissy Jupe. Timothy West and Patrick Allen were also excellent as Bounderby and Gradgrind respectively. This is not the place to go into an analysis of this work, but if it is unfamiliar to you, it is a rather pessimistic novel with a few thought-provoking and hard-hitting messages. The copy was quite good except for the sound nearly disappearing for a few seconds and unlike some others, mine had no subtitles at all. Very good value at this price.
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on 21 June 2012
I just love Dickens and am a great fan of anything of his put into film or drama. This version though old, is great, with fine acting from some of the best british actors. I agree with Graham Hill who mentioned the fact that it is dated and our expectations have grown; but it is still worth watching. In fact, some of the earlier Dickens adaptations are better than the later ones. Its all a matter of personal taste and choice. You would enjoy this one.
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on 17 November 2015
For once "all star cast" is accurate - with a tour de force as the self made man from Timothy West. Jacqueline Tong is durable and touching in her somewhat implausible rise to spiritual enlightenment. And a stand out role too from Harry Markham as the circus owner, who appearing in the first and last scenes of the story stands as a mystical figure of wisdom and knowledge and folklore, well able to parley philosophically with the Gradgrinds of this world. Arthur Hopcraft's adaptation of what was Dicken's shortest work and supreme tilt at the self-satisfied smugness of the Victorian class system (ilrrespective of his unsettling anti-union views) with its inequality, dire deprivation, absence of human rights and dignity, and questionable morality, is straightforward and clear. The principles of lassiez faire - the "invisible hand" that helps everybody up - of Samuel Smiles (what a name!) of self help and utilitarianism are here completely demolished by Dickens, and this Granada production is fully equal to that mission: as good as anything from the BBC. An independent television company of the quality and values of Granada is badly missed today. This fine mini-series was just one of the drama achievements that came out of their studios.

For this price it is unmissable and shows a side of Dickens that is overlooked beside his more familiar creative output which focuses on an individual's journey through life. The denouement isn't tidy - or clean - but neither is life or the type of life described here.
It is also a chance to look back at some legendary actors for example Patrick Allen and Alan Dobie. Praise must also be showered on Michelle Dibnah as Sissy, Rosalie Crutchley as Mrs Sparsit, Richard Wren as Tom, Ursula Howell as Mrs Gradgrind and Barbara Ewing as Rachael in their rather clipped caricature roles in the manner of Dicken's way. The socially least rise the highest in this story, the most privileged sink to the lowest. The moral body count is high. Another modern star Edward Fox - who it seems to me has being playing the same sort of character most of his life - has the disseminating dastardly Harthouse in one.

Can I suggest a further insight into the author, his explorations of the same living conditions and social attitudes on his long daily solitary walks over miles and miles, can be had from the wonderful Peter Ackroyd documentary, "Uncovering the Real Dickens", with Timothy West again, with Prunella Scales (of course!) and Anton Lessor as a highly convincing Dickens at leisure and orating, available on DVD as part of a BBC box set including a memorable TV adaptation of David Copperfield featuring the irrepressibly optimistic Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith, Ian McKellen and Daniel Radcliffe, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Zoe Wanamaker. Stellar? This is an unmissable bargain available from BBC/OPUS ARTE on 3 discs (2003 OA 0877 D) The 3 disc set also contains a splendid Christmas Carol with Lessor again in story telling mode.

Don't let any quibbles about less than HD picture quality or visual styling of yesteryear (it is a period drama after all) put you off...this worth much much more than a mere 5 stars. As an ex-comprehensive school history teacher I found the Gradgrind school scenes very emotive and the promotion of rote learning reminiscent of the recurrent meddling by largely ignorant right wing politicians to insert ever more work led and training skills into the curriculum at the expense of the arts and creative subjects. Perhaps Dickens saw we work to live, not live to work. In any case, Rudolf Steiner...over to you.
Get it!
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on 8 September 2015
Great series BUT be warned Amazon's description says it has Dutch subtitles and in reality it doesn't have any subtitles at all, not even English ones.
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on 8 July 2012
Hard Times is probably one of the least well known of Dickens's novels, it is also one of his shortest. (Dickens himself regarded it more in the style of a novelette.) Published in serial format in 1854, and sandwiched between two greats"--Bleak House and Little Dorrit--there are fewer characters than in his other novels, this an inevitable consequence of its novelette scale. Moreover, with few exceptions there is little of the humour that is a feature to so many of the other novels and their characters. The title sums it up: it is a grim thesis on the plight of the ordinary dog pitched into a society that knows no level playing field.

This has to be one of the finest productions of any Dickens with one proviso: the omission of the final comeuppance of Josiah Bounderby (misspelled Joshua on the cover), is omitted (see later). Apart from the dramatic opening and closing audios, there is no background music of any kind. Indeed there is no call for this sort of distraction, for the visuals and the dialogue alone convey the full message of this harrowing tale. And for this reviewer the absence of a "it all ends happily ever after, despite the ups and downs of the journey before" makes for a more realistic tale--much of Dickens is allegorical, this one--with some small exceptions--could have been plucked straight from real life.

Set in an imaginary northern Yorkshire mining town, appropriately named Coketown, we are presented with manifestations of child education (a favourite theme with Dickens) in the mid-nineteenth century along with a number of other social "grotesques" that the author explores with consummate skill.

Despite lasting around 200 minutes (still a considerable compression of the work) there is no sense of hurry or distortion through abridgement. On the contrary, some of the scenes are played at a realistic pace thereby giving scope for some acting of anguishing realism. (The humanisation of schoolmaster Gradgrind for example.)

But at all levels the parts are played with skill and conviction; and there are some fine performances to relish here: Timothy West as Bounderby, the tempestuous, buffooning self-made mill-owner and banker, who plays on his succession from gutter to successful man of business. (A spurious claim that the production fails to honour when his housekeeper, Mrs Sparsit--herself something of a humbug and played by Rosalie Crutchley--runs to earth the mill-owners effaced mother.) But above all Patrick Allen, as Gradgrind, has us convinced of his mellowing through experience and ageing, again not unknown in real life.

The scenes between the estranged mill-worker, Stephen Blackpool (Alan Dobie), ostracized by his workmates for refusing to join the union, and his lover Rachael (Barbara Ewing), especially the final death scene when the man is hauled up from the depths of a disused mineshaft, are very moving; likewise the rapport between Sissy Jupe (Michelle Dibnah), an orphaned young woman Gradgrined takes into care, and Gradgrind's daughter Louise (Jacqueline Tong) connived into marrying Bounbderby.

The humour is subtly done non-the-less, thus a direct quote from the book (faithfully reproduced in the production under review). Bounderby's bank has been robbed (by the Whelp, Tom (Richard Wren)--Gradgrind's son--as it happens, with the suspicion thrown deliberately by the former onto Blackpool. Mrs Sparsit, having been placed in rooms above the bank following Bounderby's marriage to Louise, has to recount the activities of the Bank's errand boy Bitzer (Sean Flanagan):

`Sir,' returned Mrs Sparsit, `I cannot say I have actually heard him (Bitzer) precisely snore, and therefore must not make that statement (that the boy was sleeping on duty). But on winter evenings when he has fallen asleep at his table, I have heard him, what I should prefer to describe as partially choke. I have heard him on such occasions produce sounds of a nature similar to what may be sometimes heard in Dutch clocks. . . ."
`Well,' said the exasperated Bounderby, `while he was snoring, or choking, or Dutch-clocking, or something or other . . .'

Beat that if you can!
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