BLEAK HOUSE PART 1: The BBC production of Charles Dickens' Bleak House debuted last night on PBS after wowing viewers in the UK. Friends had been telling me about the miniseries for months and I couldn't wait to see it, especially with Gillian Anderson in the starring role as Lady Dedlock. As my friends had indicated, it is absolutely brilliant television.
While a period piece, the pacing and editing is almost MTV-style with multiple camera angles, jump cuts, etc. The number of characters introduced in the first two hours was dizzying. In the UK, the series was broken down in 30 minute installments, but we're getting it in two hour blocks that will continue until the end of February. The plot, which seems straightforward on the surface, is fairly byzantine. The case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce has been caught up in the English court system for years because of multiple wills. Whoever wins the case will inherit a fortune. Two young family members, Richard and Ada, will likely inherit the fortune and they have been taken into the home of John Jarndyce, who's machinations seem both kindly and sinister at the same time. Does he want the money for himself?
And then there's Esther, a girl with no past, who's brought to Bleak House as a companion to Ada, but is also searching for her mother and father. It's obvious at the outset that Lady Dedlock is Esther's mother and her father is a former officer and gentleman who has fallen on hard times. The real mystery is how they were all separated, and why Lady Dedlock is "bored to death," almost literally. Gillian Anderson's gauntness and detached voice is a revelation, and her first appearance...staring out a rainy window where she offers up the quote above sets the tone for the proceedings. There's no trace of Agent Dana Scully here at all. Lady Dedlock carries the emotional weight of the first two hours and it appears she will be the linchpin for the rest of the series. Her palpable heartbreak when she learns her former lover has died is devastating to watch. And Charles Dance is excellent as the malevolent lawyer Tulkinghorn, who seems hellbent on exposing Lady Dedlock's past.
This barely scratches the surface of Bleak House. It restores my faith in television being able to produce something just as good, if not better, than what's coming out of the movie studios.