Add a Review

  • There are four adaptations of The Old Curiosity Shop out on video (not counting the cartoon), but this is the only one to see. Alone of them, it has the true Dickens style and atmosphere. Its tone is not quite that of this particular novel, however, since in the absence of the narrative hand-wringing over Little Nell's plight - despite Natalie Ogle's compelling Little Nell - the comic, ebullient side predominates, and makes the overall effect closer to that of The Pickwick Papers.

    The serial is word-heavy, as usual in BBC adaptations of the period. But as often with Dickens, that's a good thing. The script retains the full color and spirit of his dialogue, and the actors have a field day with it. Unlike later versions, it tells the story almost in its entirety. And it plays the melodrama out to the fullest.

    The opening scene is especially neat: a pantomime-like introduction to the central situation, described mainly through the movements of the characters. It's as close as can be to a silent melodrama of the 1920s - as is perfectly appropriate. This impression is reinforced by the evocative theme, which calls to mind equally a theater organ and a calliope.

    Again, with the pathos reduced, the story becomes more of a comic melodrama than it was in the book. But perhaps that was inevitable anyhow, given that the most vigorous characters are the comic villains. Note that I said "most" vigorous: _every_one in this rendition, even Little Nell's declining grandfather, seems to pursue life with twice as much energy as normal people ever could: part of what engenders the true Dickens feeling.

    This production is the only one to present Quilp as something close to the diabolical monster he was - always railing, seething, chortling over the wrongs he does others. Trevor Peacock gives a good, strong reading of the character that almost encompasses the breadth of his excesses, the depth of his depravities. Later versions try to make him a more realistic character, which he isn't and can never be. Also, in a misplaced bow to political correctness, they minimize or eliminate his deformities. The serial shows them - as best it can, lacking an actual dwarf. Peacock gives him a crookback and crooked legs so that he only stands half as tall as everyone else (making doubly funny the reference to him as "a _species_ of dwarf"); the contrast is quite effective.

    Unfortunately, in another respect Peacock is hampered visually. He doesn't have the face of a Quilp (unlike e.g. Andy Serkis, who played the similarly fiendish Blandois in the more recent production of Little Dorrit), he's more a Bill Sikes type, and the make-up people have been unable to make up the difference. The hairdressers, on the other hand, have gone too far, and given him a tease that doesn't look like the product of either natural growth or conscious affectation. In close-ups particularly, one has to exert effort to ignore it.

    (Both Peacock and Serkis got some notices accusing them of overplaying their parts - but how can you overplay Punch? The difficulty is to keep the character large _enough_ - if the actor doesn't happen to be a puppet.)

    In this serialization, unexpectedly, the star part - really the hero, in a sense - is the profligate but kind-natured Dick Swiveller. He's embodied in a charmingly balmy performance by Granville Saxton, a tall, moon-faced, dancerish type who might have stepped out of a Maxfield Parrish illustration to Mother Goose. The serial would be worth seeing for him alone.

    But it's worth seeing front to back - a spirited, old-fashioned treat.
  • The BBC productions of the 70s and 80s seem to be either loved or hated by viewers. If you are a modern viewer who can only watch one-dimensional, trendy shows with simple plots and fast editing, then any BBC movie from the 70s and 80s will bore you to death. If, however, you enjoy watching fine acting and more intricate plotting that is more in line with watching a stage play, then the old BBC movies are just for you.

    This production of Charles Dickens' classic is a fine production that sticks to the classic very well. As usual with the old BBC, there is a lot of dialogue and very long scenes (again, more like watching a show in the theater than on the television screen). But the investment of time is always worth the effort, as you are able to absorb yourself fully in the adventures of Nell and her grandfather, as they try to escape the grasp of the vicious and villainous Quilp.

    Trevor Peacock (in spite of his obvious wig) is deliciously wicked as Quilp. Anyone who believes these characters to be overacted should re-read Dickens; you will find that the characters in his classics are just as extreme, written in that unmistakably moralistic style that has become one of the hallmarks of Dickens' work.

    Natalie Ogle portrays the sweetness and innocence of Nell in a way similar to Mark Lester's performance in 1968's Oliver, embodying a kind of angelic innocence surrounded by evil. The rest of the cast is colorful and amusing to watch, including Granville Saxton's humorous but eventually sympathetic portrayal of Mr. Swiveller, Colin Jeavons' very amusing Mr. Brass, and a terrific youthful performance from Annabelle Lanyon as the Marchioness.

    A terrific production for those who enjoy these older BBC movies, which do not have the "snap, crackle, and pop" of (often less interesting) modern movies, but they do have something that many productions today are sorely lacking- great acting and scripting that you can really sink your teeth into.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Old Curiosity Shop is not one of Dickens' masterpieces, but is still whimsical, suspenseful, moving, sometimes funny and always involving. So if you are a fan of Dickens' writing, there is no real reason really to not read The Old Curiosity Shop. Of the four versions personally seen, this one fares the best. The others were the Peter Ustinov adaptation, which was really nicely done with a very creepy and vivid Quilp from Tom Courtenay; the Derek Jacobi adaptation(which I actually saw previous to reading the book) which was surprisingly good, again Quilp(from Toby Jones) is the most memorable thing about it, the ending was very moving and it's the second most evocative adaptation visually after this; and the 1984 animated version, unfortunately apart from the background art, this was pretty poor, too condensed, very plodding and none of the characterisations were interesting.

    This version may not be 100% perfect, then again not many things are. There definitely could have been more suspense and uneasiness, we know that Quilp is sinister and not one to mess with but we could perhaps have seen a little more of that from other characters' perspectives(even from looking over one's shoulder). Quilp's make-up and hair are also somewhat on the obvious side, and his demise is a little rushed. The serial is often criticised for having too much of a comedic touch, not to this viewer it didn't. It is true that some of pathos is reduced, but some do forget sometimes that some of Dickens' best comic moments are in The Old Curiosity Shop and Quilp while also the most menacing Dickens villain(more so than Bleak House's Tulkinghorn) is also to some extent the funniest.

    Even with the imperfections though, this 1979 is really impressive and as well as being the best version of the book is also one of the more faithful ones too. Not entirely faithful mind, the pathos is reduced and it's not as suspenseful as the book and the character of Frederick is omitted. The whimsical, funny and intense nature of the narrative is maintained though, with a poignant final scene with the grandfather at Little Nell's grave. And the atmosphere is unmistakably Dickens, the city scenes are wonderfully grim and seedy(they were too clean in the Ustinov version, from a personal opinion) and the countryside scenes are just lovely, of the live-action adaptations despite being the eldest it's also the most evocative. The photography moves from each frame without any major glitches and serves the period detail nicely. The music provides a good match for the tone of the story and each scene and also used fittingly.

    It is very well adapted too. The writing is colourful and thoughtful, though also wordy, it has Dickens written all over it. It does wonderfully in conveying the heartbreak of the later scenes, comedy, melodrama and moments of genuine sense of dread(there could have been more though), and is the most successful adaptation in doing so. The storytelling here moves slowly and can feel lengthy. The Old Curiosity Shop's not quite Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Bleak House and Little Dorritt, which have more dense, longer(Bleak House is huge) and richer narratives and need a long length and deliberate pacing to tell the stories properly, however like them and most Dickens in general the story does need time to breathe and evolve and to give believability to the characters. The Old Curiosity Shop does that, and again more successfully than the other three adaptations.

    Sebastian Shaw gives a charming, compassionate and affecting performance as the grandfather, and like Jacobi faithfully fits the role physically(Peter Ustinov was effective and more restrained than he usually was but like his Hercule Poirot he was physically the opposite of how the character is described in the book). Natalie Ogle is appropriately innocent sweet, and is so without being too bland like some performances of Dickens female characters can fall into the trap of being. Trevor Peacock's Quilp is wonderful, a little too obvious physically but that's not his fault, with how Quilp is described to make his appearance less of a villain look would be rather difficult. He is not only menacing and quite vivid in that respect(Courtenay in the Ustinov version is the creepiest as the character though) he is also quite comedic, the only one of the Quilps to do that actually.

    Granville Saxton is a most memorable Mr Swiveller, one of the book's most interesting characters. He is fun to watch but later on he convincingly tones down for a more sympathetic approach. Colin Jeavons(best known to me as Inspector Lestrade in the Granada Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett) is spot on too as Samuel Brass, even better than the one in the Ustinov adaptation, while Annabelle Lanyon is fine as well. Overall, won't be for everybody but personally it was the best version. 9/10 Bethany Cox
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Don't pay attention to mistaken naysayers who downplay this comic villain masterpiece. After close to four decades, this video adaption remains the yardstick best of four versions of the underrated Dickens classic. If you grew up in the 70s when BBC melodrama dominated PBS, you can appreciate the low key dialog of this histrionic character based treatment. Trevor Peacock's all out portrayal of hunchback dwarf loan shark Daniel Quilp dominates this like no other Dickensian player ever and is so over the top that you can't imagine anyone else doing justice to the role after this. Everything from the voice to the persona to his silhouette matches one's mind's eye of the original. The only flaw is that the ending felt rushed and did not focus well enough on the demise of Quilp, who carries and steals this show and is the funniest bad guy in all of Dickens novels.
  • Despite the poor reviews here, I find this series holds up very well on a repeat viewing, I first saw it aged 12 on it's original broadcast. Now, as then, Trevor Peacock's Quilp was what kept me watching. Evil yet gleeful, drinking and smoking and quiping nastily at all within range.

    The production's weakness are the story's really, which cannot be helped. It is hard to work up much sympathy for the weak-willed grandfather, but Nell is easy to root for, as is Dick Swiveller, whose scatterbrained asides and meanderings are very good fun.

    It feels dark and dirty and oppressive, yet there is good in the world, and Dickens keeps you wondering which will emerge victorious. (Dis)honourable mention to Sampson Brass too, his snivelling obedience and toadying is very well done.
  • I have no wish to be unkind, but the music seems to be the only decent thing about this production. The entire cast of this TV series act as if they were part of a slide show, with one expression each, and overact as though they were performing at the Yankee Stadium to a hearing-impaired crowd with glaucoma. The film's attempts at being funny are lamentable, whereas its attempts at being touching are truly risible. I bought it due to my renewed interest in Dickens after seeing the unmissable 2005 TV version of "Bleak House", and I must say that this version of "The Old Curiosity Shop" is nowhere near it. However can Dickens go so wrong? I should have bought the Peter Ustinov version.
  • I know for a fact that Sebastian Shaw and Trevor Peacock are capable of fine acting. However you won't find it here, from either of them or anyone else. William Trevor, who wrote the screen adaptation, is a fine novelist, poet and critic. But this is cringe-inducing.

    It is about as awful a Dickens adaptation as one could imagine. The pace is slow, the acting obvious and one-dimensional. It's like watching Dickens for Marionettes.

    I hope that's not because it comes from BBC Birmingham rather than London. I'm more inclined to think that the format, 9 30-minute episodes, suggests that this mini-series is meant for school use only. The show might be useful for scaring kids away from literature for the rest of their lives, if anyone had such a purpose.

    Otherwise, stay away.