Thursday, February 3, 2011

Battle of the BBC Series

I have been, for a very long time, a fan of BBC movies, especially those based on pre-1950s literature (I would say pre-1900 literature, but that would exclude Horatio Hornblower and early Agatha Christie, which will never do). I've seen the 5-hour version of Pride and Prejudice numerous times (and it IS five hours and not six, as everyone claims—there are six episodes of 50 minutes each), watched both old and new adaptations of Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and my favourite, Persuasion. I had also eventually branched away from Jane Austen into the Brontë sisters, C. S. Forrester, and Elizabeth Gaskell. I loved them all, with the exception of a few of the later Horation Hornblower episodes. I will be the first to admit that I mostly enjoy the movies. The novels that I've read from the above list have tended to be somewhat dull and I can never get quite as invested in a book that leaves so much to the imagination.

Somehow, though, I had never discovered Charles Dickens. Well, I had seen Oliver! the musical and countless stage performances of A Christmas Carol, and even read a graphic novel of Great Expectations, but my exposure to Dickens was very lacking.

Last week, Elena took Little Dorrit out of the library. I had never even heard of it before, and suddenly there it was; over 450 minutes of miniseries there for the watching, most of it featuring Matthew McFadyen, which is never a bad thing. It was while watching this that I realized why Dickens has his very own adjective. The characters, settings, and plots were so very Dickensian that there was literally no other word to describe them. Every scene at the Circumlocution Office was brimming with satire and scathing judgement on the British civil service. Characters like Flintwinch skulked through narrow, crooked halls in a manner that can only be described as Dickensian, while Andy Serkis played a masterfully creepy Rigaud. In some movies, the side characters are so interesting that one loses sight of the main plot, but with incredible performances in the lead roles of Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam, I was riveted almost the entire 7 hours (minus a bit of a slow part in Italy towards the end of the movie). I would recommend Little Dorrit to anyone with either a weekend to kill, a series of boring evenings, or a love of BBC miniseries. I promise that once you start remembering who all the characters are, it gets really good.

The worst thing is, on every BBC production, there are previews for even more tantalizing movies. I've added several to my list, including The Way We Live Now, Bleak House, and Lorna Doone. At this rate, I don't think I'll ever be able to watch them all—every time I discover a new one, there's three more waiting.

Bless you, BBC, for your prolific miniseries making.