Tag Archives: charles dickens

TV Review: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Episode 2)

12 Jan

A word of warning before you read further. This review contain spoilers for both episodes of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, therefore if you have not seen the end of the programme, you may wish to avert your eyes. 

The heady influence of opium is as evident in the second part of this adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood as in the first, and is used to cover a multitude of sins. Rather than have Drood disappear at the end of the first part, as is the case in the manuscript of Dickens’ unfinished final novel, Gwyneth Hughes chose to show viewers what they though was his perverted and drug-addled Uncle Jasper strangling him with a necktie. This was a mistake, as it detracted from the mystery of Drood’s disappearance, and most of the second episode is spent waiting for Jasper’s crime to be discovered (even, it would seem, by Jasper himself). However, as with the opening of the first episode, Drood’s murder was shown to be nothing but a hallucination, a memory of another crime. While this red herring did allow for a series of surprise plot twists, including the discovery that Edwin’s long-dead father, Edwin Drood Sr., was not quite as long-dead as had previously been believed, these twists were neither as shocking nor as hard-hitting as they could have been.

Although the plot was somehow wanting, the acting in the second part was as stunning as in the first, with Bazzard (David Dawson), Mr Grewgious’s clerk, coming into his own in the attempt to solve the mystery, and excellent performances from the young Alfie Davis as Deputy the orphan boy and Ron Cook as Durdles throwing a little humour into the otherwise chilling mix. But of course, it is Matthew Rhys who steals the show, with his excellent portrayal of Jasper’s descent into madness (although even he cannot make the character sympathetic.

Not as captivating as the first installment despite the quality of the acting, Episode 2 of The Mystery of Edwin Drood left me with the feeling that Dickens’ last novel is better left unfinished.

TV Review: Great Expectations Part One (BBC)

28 Dec

Image: The Telegraph

In my review of The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff, I mentioned my hatred for Great Expectations. This hatred developed when I studied the novel during my GCSEs, and after a term of reading and re-reading the same four passages, I was certain that I never wanted to see or hear anything about it ever again. But the BBC’s new adaptation of it, the first part of which aired last night, may just have managed to change my mind.

Part of the reason for my change of heart was the sheer beauty of this adaptation. Well, I say beauty. In reality, it was beautiful in a gloomy, terrifying, utterly Dickensian kind of way, which is what made it so perfect. Despite having seen every adaptation known to man of the other texts which I studied at GCSE, I have never seen a televised version of Great Expectations before, and thus I cannot compare it to its numerous predecessors. Nor can I say how it compared to the images which appeared in my head when I read the novel, for if these ever existed, I blocked them out, along with my memories of most of the plot. What I can say is that the atmosphere created was perfect for the scenes which played out on my television screen.

The one image which I did have before turning on the television tonight was of Miss Havisham. However, although I do of course remember her from the novel, I have a horrible feeling that the image in my head comes straight from The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff. And, I have to say, Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of Miss Havisham was nothing like that image. Given that my Miss Havisham was a slightly comic figure though (which only increases my suspicion about where I might have extracted her from), I think that this was probably for the best. Anderson depicted the tragedy of Miss Havisham beautifully, as well as the childlike elements of the character, and the scenes at Satis House were undoubtedly the finest moments of the hour.

There are also excellent performances by Oscar Kennedy as the younger Pip and Douglas Booth as the elder, Shaun Dooley as Joe Gargery, Claire Rushbrook as Mrs Joe, Izzy Meikle-Small and Vanessa Kirby as the younger and elder Estellas, and Ray Winstone as the Abel Magwitch (finally in a role in which his irrepressible Cockney accent is appropriate). Once again BBC, you have succeeded in coercing me back into loving Dickens – I can’t wait to watch the next two installments!

Parts Two and Three of Great Expectations will be shown on BBC One at 9PM on December 28th and 29th, or all three can be viewed on BBC iPlayer.

TV Review: The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff (BBC)

21 Dec

I used to be a big fan of Dickens. I was eight at the time, and while the rest of my classmates were reading Jacqueline Wilson books, I was ploughing through David Copperfield. But then I went to secondary school and English Literature classes infected me with a healthy loathing for anything which I might be expected to analyse. Given that we’d actually studied Great Expectations (with special emphasis on two particular scenes, which we must have read at least forty times); Dickens went straight to the top of my blacklist.

Luckily for me though, I had read just enough during that early Dickens obsession to not only be amused by but to understand most if not all of the satirical references in the first episode of the BBC’s new Dickens parody The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff. And after what has been so far a quite frankly dire offering of Christmas television (at least that which my family have chosen to watch), this was a breath of fresh air.

Alright it may not have been exactly subtle, either in humour or in plot, which the main character, Jedrington Secret-Past (Robert Webb) turning out to have a secret past, one which lands his wife Conceptiva (Katherine Parkinson) and two children Victor (Finlay Christie) and Victoria (Ambra Lily Keegan) in The Skint prison. This necessitates a visit to the home of his adoptive maiden aunts (and uncle), the four of whom each epitomised a Victorian virtue, from chastity to writing prompt thank you cards, and eventually leads him to the attic inhabited by the mysterious Miss Christmasham (Celia Imrie) – anyone who like me was forced to study Great Expectations will no doubt be shuddering at the reference! Along the way he is aided by a group of urchins, led by the Artful Codger (Johnny Vegas) who can be summoned by a cry of “Urchins, ho!”. It’s all decidedly silly, but in a good way, and just what returning students like me need to rest their essay-fried brains.

The series also has a great cast. Alongside Webb, Imrie and Vegas, we have Stephen Fry as the evil lawyer Malifax Skulkington and David Mitchell as Jolliforth Jollington, the most joyful man in the world – and who better to play him than Mitchell, who never seems to stop smiling? Also notable in the first episode is Terrence Hardiman, as a madman with a goose on his hat, a necessary addition to any television show, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

All in all, The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff may not be the best parody show ever to grace our screens, but if you’re looking for a little light-hearted entertainment this Christmas, I’d certainly recommend tuning in!

A repeat of The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff: Christmas Episode will be aired on Tuesday 29th December at 10pm on BBC2.