Bleak House (BBC) 2005

bleak-houseBleak House was first published in 19 monthly installments between March 1852 and September 1853. The BBC TV adaptation, written by the award-winning Andrew Davies, comprised a one-hour opening episode followed by 14 half-hour episodes back in 2005.

It has now come to my house on Blu Ray and the quality is superb.

This has a stellar and somewhat surprising cast with Anna Maxwell Martin, Carey Mulligan, the wonderful Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame, brilliant Charles Dance and Alun Armstrong along side Phil Davies, Alistair McGowan, Johnny Vegas, Pauline Collins, Matthew Kelly and even Lisa Tarbuck…and it all works fantastically!

From Nigel Stafford-Clark ‘Bold. Fresh. Imaginative” said the BBC’s Head of Drama, Jane Tranter. She was talking about adapting Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. Andrew Davies and I had collaborated successfully on two Trollope adaptations, The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right.

Now we had been asked by the BBC if we wanted to have a go at Dickens’ Bleak House. But Jane wanted a new approach, something unexpected, rather than the well-established routine of ‘four hours on Sunday nights at 9pm’. The idea came while I was leafing through the book’s introduction. Bleak House was written to be serialised in twenty parts – one a month. Why not mirror Dickens’ original concept – twenty parts, half-an-hour each? Run them twice a week before the watershed. Bring Dickens back to the mainstream popular audience he was writing for’.

WIth casting it was “She lives in London. It’s not out the question.” Our casting director Kate Rhodes James was talking about Gillian Anderson, known to millions as Scully in The X-Files. We had seen her performance in Terence Davies’ period feature The House of Mirth. She would be perfect for Lady Dedlock, one of the key roles. But how to penetrate the cordon of managers and agents that normally surround a major American star to protect them from doing anything so foolish as British television?

Encouraged by Kate, we sent her the script. Encouraged, rather than discouraged, by her agent, Gillian read it and said yes. We were elated. Our elation was short-lived. There were still eighty five parts to cast. Forty of them were principal characters. If we were serious about bringing Dickens back to a mainstream popular audience, we needed to include actors with whom that audience would feel familiar.

I cannot speak highly enough of this adaptation and you can read it online here

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Great Expectations BBC 2012

Original sketching of Pip, Estelle and Miss Havisham

Great Expectations was first published between 1860 – 1861 and like most of Dickens work has been transformed onto stage and screen.

Great Expectations being no exception with another film of the story with Helena Bonham-Carter (Now OBE) taking the lead role of Miss Havisham, however our interest lies in the BBC Christmas adaptation with  the great Gillian Anderson.

The story being a tale of snobbery, class, love and hate.

It was a lavish production being shot in what seemed pastel colours which for me were very effective giving the whole production an aged feeling. Being an adaptation a few liberties were taking like the brothel scene, the kiss in the water and off the shoulder dresses at the dance…it seems very unlikely that any lady would present herself in public in the early 1800’s (the story beginning in 1912).

Anyway, mere trifles as they say!

Ray Winstone was a fabulous scary looking Abel Magwitch, the escaped convict, David Suchet gave a sharp and knowing interpretation to Jaggers but the older Pip left me feeling a little unconvinced, he seemed to lack the depth I would expected (but was the teen icandy for the mums) and Estella was just not as spiteful and mean as she should have been and left Miss Havisham the more attractive woman of the piece.

The Sets were wonderfully done as you come to expect with the BBC. The  Marsh scenes were filmed at Tollesbury Wick Marshes in Essex that have actually remained quite unchanged from that era.

So is it worth a watch?

Yes but with all ‘adaptations’ we can’t get a little too purist about the book can we?

For me it plays out well and is an interesting interpretation of the book, there are a few errors but for the sake of such an adaptation they can be over looked…

I wonder what Dickens would’ve made of it!

John Brown

No not the school days but John Brown, a proud Scot and personal servant who became a favourite of with Queen Victoria.

He was apparently appreciated by the Queen and many others for his competence and companionship but of course with this came influence and disliked for his informal manner in which he addressed the Queen.

Her children and her ministers disliked Brown and the unlikely relationship the Queen had with him and sadly gossip circulated that there was something improper about their relationship. So much so that Edward Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby claimed it was

“contrary to etiquette and even decency”.

when he found they were sleeping in adjoining rooms…such scandal!! But what did the Queen really think of Mr John Brown?

‘Perhaps never in history was there so strong and true an attachment, so warm and loving a friendship between the sovereign and servant … Strength of character as well as power of frame – the most fearless uprightness, kindness, sense of justice, honesty, independence and unselfishness combined with a tender, warm heart … made him one of the most remarkable men. The Queen feels that life for the second time is become most trying and sad to bear deprived of all she so needs … the blow has fallen too heavily not to be very heavily felt…Queen Victoria

Clearly the Queen like anyone else needed companionship and love in her life. Whilst she was the Queen she was also human and the loss of her husband must’ve been such a huge loss. The Queen even went as far to she award him medals and had portrait paintings and statues made of him this clearly upset  her son, Edward VII who destroyed all these after her death.

However an oil painting of Queen Victoria and her servant John Brown, by one of her favourite artists, could fetch up to £30,000 at auction on 1 November at Lyon and Turnbull.

The painting is by Charles Burton Barber, a gift from the Queen to Mr Brown which survived Edward the VII’s destruction shows them on Mr Browns birthday in 1876. In fact the Barber too was a favourite of the Queen and when her died apparently a wreath with the message: “A mark of admiration and regard from Victoria RI.”…not bad i’d say.

This story was captured in the rather 1997 film Mrs. Brown starring Billy Connolly as John Brown and Dame Judi Dench Queen Victoria. It won several awards:

  • winner, BAFTA Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
  • winner, BAFTA Scotland Award for Best Actress in a Film
  • winner, Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
  • winner, BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design, Deirdre Clancy

I would highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.