27 May 2005 | theowinthrop
A Wonderful Adaptation
This production was made in the middle 1980s, and appears to be the first serious attempt to put BLEAK HOUSE on celluloid. No film version of the novel was ever attempted (it is remarkably rich in subplots that actually serve as counterpoints to each other, so that it would have been very hard to prune it down). The novel was the only attempt by Dickens to make a central narrator (one of two in the work) a woman, Esther Summerson. Esther is raised by her aunt and uncle, who (in typical Dickens style) mistreat her. She is illegitimate, but they won't tell her anything about her parentage. Later we get involved with the gentry, Sir Leicester Dedlock, and his wife. Lady Honoria Deadlock (Dame Diana Rigg) is having an increasingly difficult time regarding her private life and the meddling involvement of the family solicitor Tulkinghorn (Peter Vaughn). We also are involved with the actions of Richard Carstone (Esther's boyfriend) in trying to win a long drawn out estate chancery case, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, which everyone (even Richard's cousin John Jarndyce - played by Desmond Elliot) warns is not worth the effort.
Dickens had been a law reporter and then a parliamentary reporter before he wrote fiction. Starting with the breach of promise case in PICKWICK PAPERS, Dickens looked closely at the law. Mr. Bumble said it was "a ass" in OLIVER TWIST and Dickens would consistently support that view. He looks at the slums as breeding grounds for crime in TWIST, that the law barely tries to cure. He attacks the Chancery and outdated estate laws, as well as too powerful solicitors and greedy lawyers (Tulkinghorn, Vholes) in BLEAK HOUSE. In LITTLE DORRIT he attacks the debtors' prisons (he had hit it also in David COPPERFIELD). In OUR MUTUAL FRIEND he looks at testators and wills. In THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD he apparently was going to go to a murder trial. Dickens was far more critical of legal institutions than most of his contemporaries, including Thackeray.
But the novel also looks at other problems (like charity and religious hypocrisy, the budding Scotland Yard detective force, social snobbery in the industrial revolution). He also uses the novel to satirize various people: Leigh Hunt the writer, Inspector Fields of Scotland Yard, and even the notorious Maria Manning. Most of these points were kept in this fine mini-series version. If it is shown again on a cable station, catch it.