"I am bored to death with it. Bored to death with this place, bored to death with this life, bored to death with myself." - Lady Dedlock, Bleak House

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.

Comments

Teamaster said…
Wow. I'm sorry I missed the first installments! I refuse to start mid-stream, so I guess I'll try to check it out if it ever comes out on DVD or replayed.

I'm trusting your assessment of its quality along with my own favorable experiences with certain Masterpiece Theaters and PBS-produced programs. I love THE CAZALETTS years ago, DANIEL DERONDA was *decent* (though the story fizzled), etc. I loved "Frontier House" ("Colonial House" wasn't as good.) I hope they replay the unrivalled I, CLAUDIUS British series (from the 1970s) someday. Precious.

There are folks out there who don't give a shit about PBS, claiming it can go to the dogs. Well, they don't realize the treasure we have and take for granted.

Mister Rogers. 'nuff said.

-D.
Teamaster said…
Great review, BTW!
Collin said…
The entire series will be on DVD at the end of February, according to Amazon. I know I'll be adding it to my collection. :)
Clare said…
Great review Collin and I agree about Charles Dance. He really was outstanding in this series, along with Gillian of course and the rest of the cast :). I think the DVD comes out over there right after the series ends.
M. Ru Pere said…
Yes, I agree - just wish it would have been on a big screen, the production is that good - and the genius of Dickens, that script - makes you slap yourself that he wrote those lines - great s'play adaptation, btw - gonna watch the tape again w my aunt's copy of Bleak House - trying to see if they changed any dialogue - also, Little Dorritt - the 6 hr film that actually was in theatres about 10 yrs ago - is almost as good as Bleak - but not quite

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