“DOCTOR THORNE” (2016) Review

 

“DOCTOR THORNE” (2016) Review

Two years ago, the ITV aired “DOCTOR THORNE”, Julian Fellowes’ four-part television adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s 1858 novel. As it turned out, the latter was the third novel in Trollope’s literary series known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire

From what I know, the 1858 novel seemed to have little in common to the rest of Trollope’s Barstshire series. Dr. Thomas Thorne, the main character in “DOCTOR THORNE”, was a distant cousin of Mr Wilfred Thorne, a minor character in “Barchester Towers”. Aside from that, the rest of the characters in “DOCTOR THORNE” seemed to have very little or no connections to the remaining Barstshire series.

The plot for “DOCTOR THORNE” seemed pretty straightforward. Our main protagonist is a respected doctor who has been raising his niece, Mary Thorne, on his own. Years earlier, Doctor Thorne’s ne’er-do-well older brother Henry had seduced one Mary Scatcherd. When her stonemason brother Roger Scatcherd had learned about his sister’s pregnancy, he engaged in a fight with Henry and killed him. Scatcherd ended in prison for several years, his sister gave birth to a daughter before moving to Australia with a new husband, and Doctor Thorne ended up raising his niece and keeping her parents’ identities a secret.

Following his release from prison, Roger Scatcherd becomes wealthy as railway project undertaker, got married, became a father and acquired a baronet. He also becomes a chronic alcoholic. Thorne becomes the family doctor to the Greshams, a local family of the landed gentry. He he persuades Scatcherd to lend money Mr. Francis Greshams, the local squire, who has troubles managing his finances. Within time, much of the Gresham estate is put up as collateral. Meanwhile, Mary forms a close friendship with the Gresham children and falls in love with Frank Gresham, Squire Gresham’s only son and heir of the squire, and he with her. But due to the family’s finances, Squire Gresham’s wife, Lady Arabella, plots to end Mary and Frank’s romance and find a wealthy wife for her son. However, Sir Roger’s only son and heir, Louis Scatcherd, also falls in love with Mary. And like his father, Louis has also acquired a drinking habit. Dr. Thorne is forced to struggle to help his niece find happiness, while at the same time, deal with Lady Arabella’s scheming for her son, and the tenuous financial situation between the Scatcherds and the Greshams.

“DOCTOR THORNE” received mixed reviews when it aired on both British and American television. I suspect that many critics believed that the production seemed to lack the bite of previous Trollope adaptations. And if I must be honest, I agree with them. Overall, “DOCTOR THORNE” struck me as a fluff piece into the life of Victorian society, despite the social snobbery portrayed in the miniseries, along with the fact that two of the characters were alcoholics. I believe it had something to do with the production’s tone. Thanks to Julian Fellowes’ writing, the miniseries felt more like a light comedy with flashes of melodrama. Especially for a story that featured social bigotry, family secrets and alcoholism.

It did not help that the only characters in this story who truly suffered in the end were the members of the Scatcherd family. Personally, I wish that Lady Arabella Gresham had suffered a lot more than a slight embarrassment over the discovery of Mary Thorne’s newly inherited wealth by the end of the story. I found the aristocratic matriarch’s efforts to break up Frank Jr.’s romance with Mary a lot more perfidious than the Scatcherds’ financial hold over the Greshams or even the malice and hostility that Sir Roger’s son Louis had harbored toward the high-born family. After all, the Greshams had found themselves in financial difficulties, thanks to Squire Gresham’s mishandling of the family’s income and the family’s spending habits.

But despite my qualms over the production, I still managed to enjoy it. “DOCTOR THORNE” proved to be a humorous and romantic story about Mary Thorne’s relationship with Frank Gresham Jr. and the obstacles – both socially and emotionally – they were forced to overcome. I also enjoyed the humorous subplot involving the political going-ons in Barsetshire and the upcoming election between Sir Roger Scatcherd and Mr. Moffat, another self-made man who had managed to gain support from the Gresham family. The miniseries also proved to be a poignant family drama involving the Thorne and Scatcherd families, with a big emotional payoff. And all of this romance and family drama was witnessed by the always dependable Doctor Thorne, who seemed to serve as the story’s backbone.

The production values for “DOCTOR THORNE” proved to be top-notch. Production designer Kristian Milsted did a solid job in re-creating Barsetshire, the fictional mid-19th century community (for its middle-class and upper-class citizens) featured in this story. Her efforts were ably assisted by Caroline Story’s art direction and Jan Jonaeus’s sharp and colorful photography, which did justice to various locations utilized in various counties in Southern England. I especially enjoyed the costumes created by Colleen Kelsall as shown below:

However, I felt a bit disturbed when I noticed that the day dresses worn by some of the women characters exposed a bit of cleavage:

Unless I happened to be wrong, 19th century women did not reveal any cleavage during the daytime. It was considered appropriate to do so in the evening for formal dinners and parties. I also noticed in the image above that actress Gwyneth Keyworth is also wearing a flower crown. A flower crown with daytime casual wear? I do not think so. Flower crowns – popularized by Queen Victoria during her wedding to Prince Albert – were usually worn by brides and bridemaids during wedding ceremonies, formal dinners and parties. I have one last complaint. The mid 19th century hairstyles worn by the women cast members seemed spot on to me . . . with one exception:

What on earth was the production’s hairstylist thinking by allowing this modern touch to actress Stefanie Martini’s hairstyle? Or was the hairstylist trying to copy the following look?

The problem is that the above style was prevalent in the 1840s, a decade before the setting for “DOCTOR THORNE”. And Ms. Martini’s “curls” are a tad too short.

The miniseries featured a mixture of solid and excellent acting. I can honestly say that there was not a bad performance in the production. Performers such as Nicholas Rowe, Alex Price, Cressida Bones, Janine Duvitski, Danny Kirrane, Tim McMullan, Nell Barlow all provided solid performances. More solid performances came from Edward Franklin, who seemed a tad over-the-top as the hostile and alcoholic Sir Louis Scatcherd; Harry Richardson, whose portrayal of Frank Gresham Jr. struck me as a bit bland; and Stefanie Martini’s performance as Mary Thorne struck me as charming, but not quite interesting. The real problem proved to be the character, who seemed to lack any interesting personality traits.

One of the more interesting performances came from Rebecca Front, who did an excellent job in conveying Lady Arabella Gresham’s snobbish and ruthless nature. Phoebe Nicholls’ Countess de Courcy (Lady Arabella’s sister-in-law) proved to be equally snobbish and ruthless. However, Nicholls skillfully conveyed how Lady de Courcy’s ruthlessness proved to be more subtle. Richard McCabe did an excellent job of portraying Francis Gresham’s likable, yet slightly weak nature. Gwyneth Keyworth gave an excellent performance as Frank Jr.’s complex and slightly mercenary sister, Augusta Gresham. Kate O’Flynn gave a skillful performance as Augusta’s equally mercenary cousin, Lady Alexandrina de Courcy, who proved to be a lot more manipulative. Alison Brie gave a very charming, yet sly performance as the wealthy American heiress Miss Dunstable, who proved to be a very sensible and wise woman. One of two best performances in the miniseries came from Ian McShane, who gave a superb performance as the alcoholic, yet proud and loyal Sir Roger Scatcherd. The other best performance came from Tom Hollander, who did a superb job as the leading character, Doctor Thomas Thorne, a sensible and put upon man, who constantly struggles to look after his niece from the likes of Lady Arabella and keep Squire Gresham from folding under the weight of debts.

What else can I say about “DOCTOR THORNE”? It is not one of the best television productions I have seen. It is probably the least impressive Anthony Trollope I have ever come across. But despite its flaws, I rather enjoyed it. I found it rather charming and likable, thanks to Julian Fellowes’ screenplay and the excellent cast led by Tom Hollander.

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Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1940s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions (so far) that are set in the 1940s: 

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1940s

1. “Homefront” (1991-1993) – Lynn Marie Latham and Bernard Lechowick created this award-winning series about the residents of a small Ohio town in post-World War II.

2. “Mob City” (2013) – Jon Bernthal starred in this six-part limited series that was inspired by John Buntin’s book, “L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City”. Co-starring Alexa Davalos and Milo Ventimiglia, the series was created by Frank Darabont.

3. “Agent Carter” (2015-2016) – Hayley Atwell starred as Margaret “Peggy” Carter, an agent with the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) in the post-World War II Manhattan. Created by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the MCU series co-starred James D’Arcy and Enver Gjokaj.

4a. “Band of Brothers” (2001) – Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks produced this outstanding television miniseries about the history of a U.S. Army paratrooper company – “Easy Company” – during the war. Damian Lewis and Ron Livingston starred. (tie)

4b. “The Pacific” (2010) – Spielberg and Hanks struck gold again in this equally superb television miniseries about the experiences of three U.S. Marines – John Basilone, Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge – in the war’s Pacific Theater. James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazzello and Jon Seda starred. (tie)

5. “Manhattan” (2014-2015) – Sam Shaw created this series about the creation of the first two atomic bombs at Los Alamitos, New Mexico. The series starred John Benjamin Hickey.

6. “The Winds of War” (1983) – Dan Curtis produced and directed this television adaptation of Herman Wouk’s 1971 novel. The seven-part miniseries starred Robert Mitchum, Ali McGraw and Jan-Michael Vincent.

7. “Pearl” (1978) – Stirling Silliphant wrote this three-part miniseries about a group of men and women who experienced the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Angie Dickinson, Robert Wagner, Lesley-Ann Warren and Dennis Weaver starred.

8. “The Jewel in the Crown” (1984) – The ITV aired this award winning television adaptation of Paul Scott’s “Raj Quartet”novels (1965–75) about the end of the British Raj in India. The fourteen-part miniseries starred Art Malik, Geraldine James, Charles Dance and Tim Pigott-Smith.

9. “Foyle’s War” (2002-2015) – Anthony Horowitz created this television crime drama about a British police detective during World War II. The series starred Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks and Anthony Howell.

10. “RKO 281” (1999) – Liev Schreiber starred as Orson Welles in this 1999 television adaptation of 1996 documentary called “The Battle Over Citizen Kane”. The television movie also starred John Malkovich, Roy Schneider, James Cromwell and Melanie Griffith.

“TIMELESS”: Secrets and Mistrust

“TIMELESS”: SECRETS AND MISTRUST

Ever since Season Two of NBC’s “TIMELESS” completed its run, I have found myself re-watching the series from the beginning. It has been something of a slow burn, but I did not wish rush through it. Recently, I watched Season One episode called (1.06) “The Watergate Tape” and discovered something unpleasant about the series’ trio of protagonists. Well . . . at least two of them. 

Ever since the series’ premiere, (1.01) “Pilot”, the initial protagonist, the former NSA agent and rogue time traveler Garcia Flynn, has been trying to convince main protagonist Dr. Lucy Preston that they would become future colleagues and that he had possession of her future diary. Flynn also tried to warn Lucy about Rittenhouse, a mysterious political organization that has been at the forefront of the United States’ development since the American Revolution. Horrified by the idea of being a colleague with a man she regarded as nothing more than a murderer, she kept silent about the encounters.

In the same episode, the creator of the two time machines and head of Mason Industries, Connor Mason, had instructed his programming engineer/time machine pilot Rufus Carlin to provide an audio recording of his missions with Lucy and U.S. Army Delta Force operative Master Sergeant Wyatt Logan. Although Rufus agreed, he changed his mind in the next episode, (2.02) “The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln”. To convince Rufus to cooperate, Mason reminded the engineer that he had bankrolled the latter’s education. When Rufus had refused to continue recording their missions in (1.04) “Party at Castle Varlar”, a Rittenhouse operative threatened to harm Rufus’s family if he did not cooperate. Rittenhouse’s threat was issued again in “The Watergate Tape”when an older operative (or official) appeared outside of Rufus’ home with Mason inside a limousine. The Rittenhouse official made it clear that the organization was monitoring Rufus’ family. He also made it clear that if Rufus continues to refuse recording the time travel missions, the Carlin family might cease to exist.

Both Lucy’s previous encounters with Flynn and Rufus’ secret recordings finally came to light in this episode. After Flynn managed to capture the trio not long after their arrival in 1972 Washington D.C., he revealed his previous encounters with Lucy to both Rufus and Wyatt. Needless to say, both men were surprised and upset. While Flynn kept Wyatt as a hostage, he tasked both Lucy and Rufus to find the missing “doc” that was mentioned in the infamous 18 1/2 missing minutes from one of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes. Both Lucy and Rufus discovered that the “doc” is actually a young African-American woman, whose family has been associated with Rittenhouse for generations. The “Doc” wanted to make her escape from the organization. Lucy overheard Rufus contact Rittenhouse and discovers that he had been providing the organization with audio recordings of their missions and reacts with anger. Meanwhile, Flynn informed Wyatt of his discovery that Rittenhouse had bankrolled Mason Industries and the organization’s murders of his wife and child. Because of this, Flynn became determined to bring down Rittenhouse, using the stolen time machine created by Mason. By the end of the episode, a very angry Wyatt learned about Rufus’ recordings on Rittenhouse’s behalf and instructed the latter to continue recording their missions.

I must not have understood the emotions that emitted from the protagonists in this episode, when I first saw it. As far as I knew, Lucy was angry at Rufus for recording their missions for Rittenhouse. Rufus was angry (at first) over Lucy’s previous discussions with Flynn. And Wyatt was angry at both of them for keeping secrets from him. I did not pay much attention to all of this, because in the following episode, (1.07) “Stranded”, the trio made their peace with each other. But after this latest re-watch of the episode, I found myself speculating on the two secrets kept by Rufus and Lucy and the reactions to them.

I understood why Rufus and Wyatt were upset over Flynn’s revelations that he had been in contact with Lucy. As far as both men were aware, Garcia Flynn was an enemy determined to bring down the United States government and the man who had murdered his family. The U.S. government have been trying to capture or kill him since the first episode. And considering that Lucy had failed to inform them of her interactions with Flynn since the first mission, I would not have been surprised if Wyatt and Rufus had began to wonder about her role on their team or whether she had been associated with Flynn all along.

However, my feelings regarding Rufus’ situation proved to be different. I understood Lucy and Wyatt’s initial anger over their discovery that the former had been recording their missions. But Rufus had made it clear that after their first mission he had refused to continue his recording until Rittenhouse had threatened to kill his family. He had even made an effort to point out that the organization had been observing him, his mother and his brother. Although Wyatt had instructed Rufus to continue recording the missions until they can learn more about Rittenhouse . . . he remained angry at and distrustful of the engineer. So did Lucy. And for some reason, I found myself feeling angry at both of them.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Wyatt and Lucy had allowed their anger to get the best of them . . . to the point that they seemed unwilling to comprehend the threat that Rittenhouse had personally posed to Rufus. It was bad enough that Connor had used his past sponsorship of Rufus’s career to blackmail the latter into cooperating.

Following Wyatt’s discovery of Flynn’s past history of Rittenhouse and the threats that Rufus had received, I found myself wondering why he still remained angry at the engineer. Surely he understood why Rufus had agreed to cooperate with Rittenhouse? The latter’s family had been threatened. And considering Flynn’s revelation that Rittenhouse had murdered his family, surely Wyatt understood that Rufus had a good reason to cooperate and keep those recordings a secret in the first place. On one level, he seemed to understand. After all, he did instruct Rufus to continue the recordings. But why remain angry at the other man? Why declare in an angry voice that he could never trust Rufus again? Was Wyatt really that self absorbed and hypocritical? Did he really believe that Rufus should have thought of the team over the Carlin family? Was he privately pissed that he might have to consider that Garcia Flynn’s conflict with Rittenhouse had some merit?

One might accuse Rufus of hypocrisy, considering his reaction to the revelation that Lucy had been in contact with Flynn since the first mission. However, I realized that Rufus had a better excuse for keeping his secret than Lucy had for keeping hers. His family had been threatened. Their safety, along with his, was at stake. Had Flynn threatened Lucy to keep their past conversations a secret? Had he threatened to kill her mother, Carol Preston, if she reveal their encounters to Rufus, Wyatt and Agent Christopher? The answer to both questions were “no”. Not only did Flynn not threatened Lucy to keep their private encounters a secret, he was the one who revealed those encounters to Rufus and Wyatt. And he had seemed a bit surprised that Lucy’s teammates never knew.

And yet . . . like Wyatt, Lucy had remained angry at Rufus by the end of the episode. I found myself wondering why she had remained angry. She seemed well aware that Rittenhouse was a threat. Not only had Rufus informed her that the organization had threatened him and his family, but that it also wanted “the Doc” killed. More importantly, the latter had explained to Lucy on just how dangerous Rittenhouse could be. Yet, she was still pissed at Rufus by the time they had returned to 2016. What the fuck? Was she pissed . . . jealous that Rufus had a better excuse to keep his activities a secret than she had for keeping her conversations with Flynn a secret? Frankly, I found Lucy’s hypocrisy even worse than Wyatt’s. After all, what was her excuse? She was appalled at the idea of her future self becoming a friend and/or ally of Garcia Flynn?

I am certain that many fans of the show would find my above ramblings inconsequential. As I had pointed out earlier, the tensions between Rufus, Lucy and Wyatt were eventually settled by the next episode. Why make a fuss over what happened between them in “The Watergate Episode”. Well . . . I had read several articles about the episode. Although some reviewers had discussed how tensions had arose between the three colleagues, no one had really bothered to discuss the hypocrisy that seemed seemed rampant in this episode. Or how this episode had pretty much exposed the uglier side of their natures – especially that of Lucy and Wyatt. At this point in the series, no one seemed willing to discuss this. And perhaps . . . the episode had annoyed me so much that I had to express myself in some form.

 

Top Five Favorite Episodes of “AGENT CARTER” (2015-2016)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from ABC’s “AGENT CARTER”. Created by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the series stars Hayley Atwell as Agent Margaret “Peggy” Carter: 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “AGENT CARTER” (2015-2016)

1 - 2.02 A View in the Dark

1. (2.02) “A View in the Dark” – SSR Agent Peggy Carter’s investigation into the death of an Isodyne Energy employee in Los Angeles ends up with huge ramifications; when the wife of Isodyne’s owner, Hollywood actress Whitney Frost and another employee from the company, Dr. Jason Wilkes (who has volunteered to help Peggy), are exposed to the Zero Matter from the company’s particle accelerator.

1 - 1.06 A Sin to Err

2. (1.06) “A Sin to Err” – While Peggy and Howard Stark’s valet, Edwin Jarvis, investigate a mysterious woman whom Stark may have dated, Chief Roger Dooley and the rest of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (S.S.R.) staff begin to suspect that Peggy might be a traitor in their midst.

2 - 1.05 The Iron Ceiling

3. (1.05) “The Iron Ceiling” – After a message from the Leviathan intelligence agency is decoded; Peggy, Agent Jack Thompson and the Howling Commandos investigate a Soviet military complex to stop a possible sale of Stark’s missing weapons.

2 - 2.07 Monsters

4. (2.07) “Monsters” – While Peggy plans a rescue mission for former Leviathan agent Dottie Underwood, who had been captured in the previous episode, Whitney Frost covers up her murder of husband Calvin Chadwick and some members of the Council of Nine, a secret organization of U.S. industrialists. Whitney tortures Dottie into revealing why Peggy is interested in the Zero Matter and sets a trap that involves Jason Wilkes, along with Edwin and Anna Jarvis.

3 - 1.08 Valediction

5. (1.08) “Valediction” – In this season finale, Peggy and her fellow S.S.R. agents race to stop a pair of Leviathan agents from kidnapping Stark and dumping lethal gas on the population of New York City.

“FRONTIER” Season One (2016) Episode Ranking

Below is my ranking of the Season One episodes of the Discovery (Canada)/Netflix series called “FRONTIER”. Created by Brad Peyton, Rob Blackie, and Peter Blackie; the series stars Jason Momoa: 

 

“FRONTIER” SEASON ONE (2016) EPISODE RANKING

1. (1.06) “The Gallows” – Irish-born immigrant Michael Smyth and Cree warrior/trader Sokanon conspire to free the imprisoned half-Cree trader/outlaw Declan Harp from the clutches of Hudson Bay Company official Lord Benton and send the Fort James settlement into a state of chaos.

 

2. (1.03) “Mushkegowuk Esquewu” – Following an unexpected attack on their camp, one of the leaders of the Lake Walker trappers, Machk, lead his men to retaliate against a group of Scottish trappers known as the Brown Brothers. Meanwhile, Harp sets out to find the truth, while tensions increase.

 

3. (1.04) “Wolves” – An unexpected arrival to Fort James puts Lord Benton and his military aide, Captain Chesterfield on edge. Ale house owner Grace Emberly conspires to rid herself of a problem. And Michael is shocked when he sees his past love, Clenna Dolan, in Canada; when he last saw her being arrested as a stowaway in Britain.

 

4. (1.02) “Little Brother War” – When a Cree boy is taken hostage by Lord Benton, the tribe allows Harp the chance to find him. Meanwhile, Grace drums herself up a deal with Captain Chesterfield behind closed doors.

 

5. (1.05) “The Discipline” – A shrewd new entrepreneur contrives to topple American fur merchant Samuel Grant and the Brown brothers alike. Lord Benton’s obsession with Harp disintegrates into a ruthless interrogation and torture.

 

6. (1.01) “A Kingdom Unto Itself” – In this series opener about the North American fur trade in the late 1700s, Lord Benton voyages to Canada to restore the Hudson Bay Company’s fur trade and stamp out the trapper activities of Declan Harp. Also on the journey is stowaway Michael Smyth.

 

 

Ranking of “GARROW’S LAW” Series One (2009) Episodes

Below is my ranking of the Series One episodes of the period legal drama, “GARROW’S LAW”. Created by Tony Marchant and based upon the life of 18th century English barrister William Garrow, the series starred Andrew Buchan: 

RANKING OF “GARROW’S LAW” SERIES ONE (2009) Episodes

1. “Episode 03” – Following an argument with rival John Silvester, London barrister William Garrow is spurred on to defend the rapist of a servant. Later, he has a second encounter with thief-taker Edward Forrester, while defending a couple accused of theft and murder.

2. “Episode 01” – In the series opener, Garrow’s first encounter with Forrester leads to his unsuccessful defense of a man accused of highway robbery. Later, he defends a maid accused of the infanticide of her own baby at childbirth.

3. “Episode 04” – This season finale features Garrow defending a political activist against false evidence and a government determined to see him hanged.

4. “Episode 02” – Now a celebrated Old Bailey barrister, Garrow defends a young man accused of being the alleged attacker of women, the London Monster.

“BLEAK HOUSE” (2005) Review

 

“BLEAK HOUSE” (2005) Review

Previously, I have confessed to not being much of a fan of Victorian novelist Charles Dickens. And if I must be brutally honest, that confession still stands. I have only seen at least five adaptations of his novels – two movies and three television miniseries. Out of the five productions, I tend to be more tolerable of the three television productions. And one of them is the 2005 miniseries, “BLEAK HOUSE”, the third adaptation of Dickens’ 1852-53 novel. 

“BLEAK HOUSE” has several subplots . . . typical Dickens. But all of them are somehow connected to one plot that centers around a long-running legal case called Jarndyce v Jarndyce, which came about due to conflicting wills. One of the potential beneficiaries under the case is landowner named John Jarndyce, who is designated the legal guardian of two wards, Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, who are also potential beneficiaries. He also becomes the guardian of a third ward, an orphan named Esther Summerson, whom he hires as housekeeper for his estate and Ada’s companion. Unbeknownst to everyone, Esther is the illegal daughter of a former Army officer and drug addict named Captain James Hawdon aka “Nemo”, who makes his living as a copyist for law firms; and Lady Honoria Dedlock, the wife of baronet Sir Leicester Deadlock.

As it turns out, Lady Deadlock is also a potential beneficiary of the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case. When she and Sir Leicester are informed of the court’s decision regarding the three wards by the latter’s solicitor, Mr. Tulkinghorn, Lady Deadlock visibly reacts to the handwriting on an affidavit. Mr. Tulkinghorn notices and sets out to investigate the identity of the affidavit’s copyist, in the hopes of financially benefiting from Lady Deadlock’s past. He also recruits the help of Lady Deadlock’s maid Mademoiselle Hortense, his associate Mr. Clamb, a greedy moneylender named Mr. Smallweed and the unintentional assistance of a young man named Mr. Guppy, who works as a legal associate for John Jarndyce’s solicitor, Mr. Kenge.

I also enjoyed two other Dickens productions to a certain degree – the 1998 miniseries, “OUR MUTUAL FRIEND”, and the 2008 miniseries, “LITTLE DORRIT”. But if I must be honest, I found the narratives for both productions a bit hard to follow, due to the slightly chaotic nature of the source materials. “BLEAK HOUSE” turned out to be a different kettle of fish. Like the other two productions, it possessed a good number of subplots. In a way, it reminded me of “LITTLE DORRIT”, as it focused on the mindless and useless confusion of the chancery. But what I really admiIt was probably due to all of the subplots’ connections to the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case. Or it could be that Dickens had simply created a main narrative that I found easier to follow. Just about every subplot either connected directly or indirectly to the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case. A good example of a subplot that connected directly to the story’s main theme would be Richard Carstone’s blatant attempt to pursue a ruling on the case that would favor him and his fiancée/wife, Ada Clare, who also happened to be a potential beneficiary. And excellent example of the narrative’s indirect connection to the Jarndyce case proved to be the subplot involving Lady Deadlock (another beneficiary), her illegitimate daughter Esther Summerson and her husband’s solicitor, Mr. Tulkinghorn. In fact, this particular subplot proved to have the biggest impact upon Dickens’ narrative. I thought it was certainly the most interesting.

It also helped that the story’s leading woman character, Esther Summerson, did not prove to be another one of Dickens’ “angels in the house” types. Yes, Esther was a warm and decent woman whom most of the characters liked. But she was also a woman who remained traumatized by her status as an illegitimate child and the emotional abuse she had endured from a self-righteous and highly religious woman she believed to be her godmother, but who turned out to be her aunt. Because of her abusive past, Esther suffered from a lack of esteem. I must admit that I am only familiar with at least four Dickens novels. Because of this, Esther proved to be the first Dickens leading lady who was portrayed with such complexity.

In regard to characterization, my only disappointment with “BLEAK HOUSE” proved to be the story’s antagonists. As I had earlier pointed out, I am only familiar with four of Dickens’ novels. For a man who had no problems with pointing out the evils of modern 19th century society, he seemed very reluctant in creating villains who are from the social elite. His villains are either lower or middle-class . . . or they are foreigners. The closet Dickens came to a well-born antagonist in “BLEAK HOUSE” was the selfish and amoral sponger Harold Skimpole. However, in compare to Sir Leicester Deadlock’s middle-class solicitor, Mr. Tulkinghorn, and Lady Deadlock’s French-born maid, Madame Hortense; Skimpole is, at best, a minor comic villain.

I have few other complaints about “BLEAK HOUSE”. One complaint I have about the production was Kieran McGuigan’s cinematography. I had no problem with the production’s exterior shots. Since the miniseries was shot in High Definition Television format, McGuigan’s photography in the exterior shots captured all of the details of the set designs, props, the performers’ costumes and make-up. However, I could barely see anything in those shots set at night time and especially many of the interior shots. There were times when I felt I was merely looking at a dark screen. And I must admit that I found some of McGuigan’s camera angles rather disconcerting and there were times when I found it difficult to ascertain what was going on in a particular scene. Jason Krasucki and Paul Knight’s editing did not help. Both men had utilized an editing method that I found irritating. Whenever the miniseries moved from one scene to another, the two film editors utilized a fast shift that I found unnecessary and tonally off-putting. Perhaps producer Stafford-Clark had hoped that the fast shifts between scenes and the odd camera angles would make “BLEAK HOUSE” look modern. Honestly, I found these aspects of the production tonally off and unnecessary.

I have one last complaint. I never understood why Stafford-Clark and the BBC felt it was necessary to present the miniseries, with the exception of the first one, in half-hour episodes. Others had complained, as well. The response to this criticism was that Dickens’ long and complex novel required the fifteen installments in which it was presented. But honestly . . . the BBC could have presented the miniseries in eight hour-long episodes. Why was that so hard to consider? Every time an episode ended after 27-to-30 minutes, I felt a sense of frustration. And there were times when I found myself trying to remember which episode out of the fifteen installments I had to choose to continue. Unfortunately, the BBC went on to utilize the same format for its 2008 miniseries, “LITTLE DORRIT”.

Aside from those complaints, I really did enjoy “BLEAK HOUSE”. For me, the heart and soul of the production proved to the array of characters and the fabulous actors and actresses who portrayed them. “BLEAK HOUSE” featured first-rate performances from the likes of Timothy West, Alun Armstrong, Richard Harrington, John Lynch, Sheila Hancock, Tom Georgeson, Anne Reid, Richard Griffiths, Joanna David, Catherine Tate, Louise Brealey, Harry Eden and especially Ian Richardson, whom I found particularly entertaining as the kindly, yet witty Chancellor. I also enjoyed those performances from Warren Clarke, who gave a broadly entertaining performance as Mr. Boythorn, an old friend of John Jarndyce; Hugo Speer, the proud and struggling former Army sergeant and former friend/subordinate of Captain Hawdon; Pauline Collins, who struck me as particularly poignant in her role as the warm-hearted, yet long-suffering Miss Flite; Lilo Baur as the ambitious and vindictive foreign-born lady’s maid, Madame Hortense; and especially Phil Davis, whose colorful portrayal of the mean-tempered and greedy moneylender, Mr. Smallweed, made evil look so entertaining with his caustic remarks and now famous catchphrase:

“Shake me up, Judy! Shake me up!”

Nathaniel Parker gave a particularly memorable performance as the manipulative, yet self-absorbed sponger, Harold Skimpole. A part of me remains amazed that John Jarndyce had regarded him as a friend for so long. Carey Mulligan gave a warm, yet interesting performance as one of Mr. Jarndyce’s wards, Ada Clare. What made the actress’s performance interesting to me was her ability to convey not only Ada’s positive traits, but the character’s unrelenting blindness to her love’s flaws. Speaking of Ada’s love, Patrick Kennedy was excellent as Mr. Jarndyce’s other ward – the charming, yet undependable Richard Carstone. I must admit that Richard proved to be one a rather pathetic personality, who was always chasing a path toward quick riches, whether it was by jumping from one profession to another or putting all of his hopes on the Jarndyce v Jarndyce case. Burn Gorman was a hoot as the friendly, yet ambitious and clever law clerk, William Guppy, who became enamored of Esther Summerson and who figured out the connection between her and Lady Deadlock. As much as I liked him and Gorman’s performance, I could not help but suspect that Guppy’s idea of love was somewhat shallow

In my personal opinion, there were four performances in “BLEAK HOUSE” that reigned supreme. Those four performances came from Anna Maxwell-Martin, Gillian Anderson, Denis Lawson and Charles Dance. Now, I would not regard the character of Josiah Tulkinghorn as subtle or even two-dimensional. But thanks to Charles Dance’s subtle and malevolent portrayal, which earned him an Emmy nominatino, audiences were privy to Mr. Tulkinghorn’s talent for manipulation and coercion. Denis Lawson earned an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of John Jarndyce, the kind-hearted landowner who took in Esther, Richard and Ada. Lawson did an excellent job in balancing Mr. Jarndyce’s wise counseling of the three young people, willful blindness to Mr. Skimpole’s machinations and subtle selfish desire for Esther’s hand in marriage. Gillian Anderson earned both an Emmy and a British Academy Television Awards nominations for her portrayal of the story’s femme fatale, so to speak – Lady Honoria Dedlock. The American-born Anderson did a superb job in conveying her character’s complex and mysterious personality. Superficially, the Esther Summerson character seemed like another one of Dickens’ “angels in the house”. Thanks to the author’s pen and Anna Maxwell-Martin’s superb performance, Esther proved to be a warm, yet troubled young woman struggling to find a place for herself in the world and overcome her past trauma at the hands of an emotionally abusive guardian. Not only was Maxwell-Martin received a well-deserved nomination from the British Academy Television Awards, she also won.

No movie or television production is perfect. I had some problem with the miniseries’ editing, camera angles, and television format for “BLEAK HOUSE”. But aside from these quibbles, I can honestly say that I truly enjoy this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1852-53 novel. It is one of the few Dickens’ stories that do not seemed marred by too many subplots that are unrelated. And I believe that screenwriter Andrew Davies, directors Justin Chadwick and Susanna White, along with a superb cast led by Anna Maxwell-Martin truly did justice to the novel.