I finally sat down this evening to finish watching the BBC’s Dickensian, and am left with mixed feelings about this one. I was really excited by the idea – I’ve read a few of Dickens’ novels and seen more of their adaptations. Dickens is an author whose storylines I very much enjoy, though I sometimes find it hard to identify with his characters. However, I knew that this series was going to explore the early life of Honoria Deadlock, and of Nancy amongst others; two of Dickens’ female characters who I feel have a bit more to them than say Nell Trent or Ada Clare. I also love the era in which it was set, especially the costumes. So this was to be one of the highlights for me of this year’s TV.
I liked the first episode, even if it did feel a little busy. I reasoned that this was simply because all of the characters needed to be introduced and the viewers needed to be immersed in atmospheric, Dickensian London. The second episode was good too, and the third; and I followed this drama with interest for some time until about episode 6 or 7. Then the pace started to slow down. For a long time, I felt like some of these episodes were just fillers. Of course, Dickens is renowned for his minor characters: the likes of Fanny Biggetywitch and Mr Venus, so they had to be included, but for me, too much time was given to their antics. Inevitably, some of the suspense was lost due to the fact that the fates of many of the characters is already known to the viewer. It was clear that neither Fagin nor Dodger would hang for Marley’s murder. And, though I should perhaps have tried to ignore these more pernickety hang ups, I did struggle with the way that time frames were played around with. It is clearly stated at the beginning of A Christmas Carol that Marley has been dead for some years before Scrooge is visited by his ghost. Therefore, Tiny Tim should not be as old as he is portrayed to be when Dickensian is set. This is just one example and though it may be fussy, I could not help but be a little annoyed by this.
The main problem I found was with one of the leading storylines – that of who murdered Marley. I stopped caring about this pretty early on, possibly because we saw so little of him beforehand. The episodes which focused on this did not entice me, so it wasn’t until about episode 15, that I became interested again. This is when Honoria’s pregnancy is revealed, and the events which follow start to unfold. Those episodes, I felt, were more gripping. I could immerse myself in this narrative thread and felt that the acting of Sophie Rundle and Alexandra Moen was particularly moving.
The acting was brilliant throughout this series, I have to say. I found many of the characters believable, particularly Mrs Cratchit and Nancy. I really liked Stephen Rea’s portrayal of Inspector Bucket. I did not like the characterisation of Honoria – I found her too childish in the first few episodes and too flighty. I can see what the writers were getting at; this is what she was like before life took its toll on her. But it was hard for me to match this Honoria with the one in the book (and also with Gillian Anderson’s very stylish and sophisticated performance in the BBC’s 2005 Bleak House). I didn’t really get why Mr and Mrs Bumble were included, unless it was to provide some comic relief. I found Meriwether Compyson and Arthur suitably repellent, but still could not sympathise with Amelia. I’ve never read Great Expectations, otherwise I might be able to make a more informed judgement of those characters, but Amelia just seemed very pathetic and rather one- dimensional. The only time I really felt anything on her account was in the final episode. That was some compelling acting from Tuppence Middleton.
I was a little disappointed by this series but as the costume drama fanatic that I am, I would say that Dickensian is worth watching. Although much of the subject matter (a murder, pregnancy out of marriage, closet homosexuality) is fairly hard-hitting, somehow, this series was just not very absorbing. A friend of mine recently described it as ‘trashy’ and somehow, I knew exactly what she meant. It did lack a certain finesse. However, it is watchable and at times entertaining. Those middle episodes, where nothing much seemed to happen, are fine to have on in the background until the drama picks up again later on.
Thanks for reading,