18 July 2002 | arumbold
A creditable adaptation of a great novel
I still remember looking forward anxiously to seeing this miniseries when it first aired -- I had considered "Noble House" James Clavell's masterpiece, even greater than "Shogun." I had come away from reading the book with the sense of knowing the characters as if they were real people, and missing them when the book was finished.
In some cases, the characterizations in the miniseries hit the mark. Pierce Brosnan does an excellent job as the supremely self-confident Ian Dunross, John Rhys-Davies gives a truly inspired performance of charming villainy as Quillan Gornt, Burt Kwouk is very convincing as the compradore of the Noble House, and Gordon Jackson did a fine turn as the committed, conflicted Superintendent Armstrong. I also thought Julia Nickson Soul really heated up the screen; she was much better than a young Tia Carrere (in her pre-"Wayne's World" days).
Unfortunately, I thought the American performances were weak. Deborah Raffin was OK as K.C. Tcholok, but I would have preferred it if they had stuck to the story and not had her wind up romantically involved with Ian Dunross. The weakest in my opinion, though, was Ben Masters as Linc Bartlett. While Mr. Masters may be a good actor, I didn't think he carried this role off very well. In the book, Bartlett is a cool, calculating, and yet personable man who comes across as opportunistic but respectful of Hong Kong business and cultural traditions. Clavell wrote him as a friendly, likable man who moves easily into the circles of power in the Colony but who is an unknown, unpredictable quantity to all of the vying factions. I thought that Mr. Masters overplayed the part as too cocky, too brash, and too shallow to be a likable or sympathetic figure. In the novel, I thought Bartlett was an intriguing character on a par with Dunross. In the miniseries, I generally thought he was just a jerk.
That aside, while the miniseries has to trim a lot of the interesting sub-plots in the interest of time, it does a good job of remaining true to the spirit of Clavell's novel. I'd agree with the observation that you should watch the miniseries, then read the novel to see what the story was REALLY about.