Tuesday, 26 March 2013

BBC Charles Dickens Collection

For Christmas my in-laws bought me a boxset of eight BBC Charles Dickens adaptations. When we finished watching Sherlock Holmes it seemed like the logical thing to move on to, sticking with the Victorian theme.

This set comprises of The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Martin Chuzzlewit, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend. They originally aired between the mid-80s and 2000s; the order above is the order they are in the box, rather than order of transmission. The episodes also vary in length with the older ones tending towards 30 minutes in length, while the newer ones run to an hour or 90 minutes.

In terms of who is in the series, it would probably be quicker to list the British actors who don't star in any of the adaptations. I could probably just fill this entire blog post with a list of who is in each one. It's one of those things that you can't help but watch playing spot the British Crime Drama Star or Who's Been In Harry Potter (up to and including Harry Potter himself)!

We watched them in the order that they were in the box, which meant that we jumped back and forth between the decades when they were made. We started with The Pickwick Papers, which we actually have an old black and white version on DVD and we'd watched it not all that long ago, but this adaptation featured more of the adventures of the Pickwick club than I remembered in the film. I didn't really recognise anyone in this one apart from Clive Swift (who was in Keeping Up Appearances).

I'd quite like to see a modern version of this one, it was very funny and I think it would go down well with today's audiences. I couldn't help but do a bit of fantasy casting as I watched it, and I thought that Mr Jingle (who speaks with a weird sort of rhythm) would be played perfectly by David Tennant.

Oliver Twist took a bit of getting used to, as they didn't keep bursting into song every five minutes. Like The Pickwick Papers, this was divided into 30 minute episodes. I have to admit that I've not actually read Oliver Twist so knowledge of the story comes from the various adaptations I've seen over the years, bits of it came as a bit of a surprise to me. Of course, we had to go and watch the musical when we got to the end of the mini-series. The notable cast members of this one were Miriam Margolyes and Lysette Anthony (who played two parts, I recognised her from Dracula Dead And Loving It).

I've totally overdosed on adaptations of A Christmas Carol this year, we watched around six or seven in the run up to Christmas (sometimes more than once). This version was only half an hour long and seemed like quite a stripped down, low budget version. It featured Michael Hordern as Scrooge as well as John Le Mesurier and a very young Zoe Wanamaker. I think I might have appreciated it a little more had we just not watched so many of them in such quick succession.

Martin Chuzzlewit was slightly more modern and was one of the first ones which had dozens of people who I recognised from other TV series; Pete Postelthwaite, Emma Chambers, Julia Sawahla Lynda Bellingham and John Mills to name just a few. These episodes were longer and I preferred that because you had longer to get involved in the story. All I knew of Martin Chuzzlewit was that it featured in one of the Jasper Fforde books, so I'm thinking I'm going to have to make an effort to actually read these books now.

My absolute favourite of the set was David Copperfield, it featured a good chunk of the case of Harry Potter (a teeny tiny Daniel Radcliffe, Maggie Smith and Zoe Wanamaker), assorted members of British crime series (Emilia Fox, Trevor Eve, Alun Armstrong and Pauline Quirke) plus Ian McKellen and Bob Hoskins. It was in just two parts, which made me sad because it was over so quickly. It was funny and sad and although I could pretty much predict what was going to happen all the way through, I really enjoyed it.

It's perhaps because I enjoyed David Copperfield so much that I struggled with A Tale of Two Cities. It was very political, dealing with the French Revolution and I found it a little bit tricky to follow what was happening. Two characters are played by one person which was maybe one source of (intentional) confusion, but also the fact that everyone spoke with English accents so it was hard to tell exactly who was French and who was English. The fact that Mr Pickwick (Nigel Stock) showed up in it didn't help matters either. I think this one might improve with repeated viewings, but I'll wait a while for that.

Great Expectations starred Ioan Gruffudd, Charlotte Rampling and Tony Curran. The casting did a great job with the young characters, they really matched their adult counterparts. I did struggle a bit with following this one, it all came together in the end, but I didn't find it to be 'satisfactory'. I do want to read the book though. If nothing, these books have introduced me to a whole new selection of books that I'm going to have to pick up and study.

The last one in the set was Our Mutual Friend, with Paul McGann, Keeley Hawes, Pam Ferris, Timothy Spall and David Morrissey. This was probably a close favourite after David Copperfield and Martin Chuzzlewit. It was quite complicated with favourite different connections between people and a big hidden secret, but I really enjoyed it. I figured out what was going to happen before the end but I was mostly right.

I probably should've (and definitely could've) written a whole review for each of the adaptations that I watched. There were so many points I could pick out that I loved from most of the stories. They were all imagined so well, everything from the actors to the sets and the way that the story unfolded.

While there were some that I didn't enjoy quite as much, I think that I'll definitely go back and revisit some of these in the future. The set has also made me determined to read as many of the books as possible, I've not read as many Dickens novels as I should have. I'm going to add them to the list of books I want to read and then I'll go back and see if my opinion of the series has changed.


  1. I love the BBC adaptations of Chuzzlewit and David Copperfield, and they are the only ones of this box set I recall watching; Copperfield was on one Xmas about 10 or so years back and Chuzzlewit was the mid 90s, I've fond memories of seeing both of them.

    I can't believe I haven't seen Our Mutual Friend. I missed it first time round and never caught it since. Need to rectify that I think, especially with that cast.

    My favourites are the ones the BBC recently adapted, Bleak House and Little Dorrit.

    I love having a good box set to work through :)

    1. Both Martin Chuzzlewit and David Copperfield were two of my favourites. The casts of both were brilliant as well.

      I'm surprised that you've not seen Our Mutual Friend (knowing how you feel about Keeley Hawes ;-p) I found it a little bit harder to follow at times than some of the others, but all the same it was very good.

      I've not seen Bleak House or Little Dorrit, though I remember when they were on TV. I'm going to have to keep my eye out for another set of the BBC ones.

      Right now we're watching all the episodes of Scrubs and have just finished watching the first series of Game of Thrones. As long as we keep getting sets like this we'll never need to get a TV license!

    2. I'm surprised too! ;P

      I know that the recent adaptations of Little Dorrit and Bleak House are available on DVD each, as I have the former, but not the latter (yet, I guess!) though they should really be available as a set.

      I loved the 1st series of Game Of Thrones. The second got a bit confusing for me and I've just started watching the 3rd now on Sky. Like the best Dickens adaptations, the actors are all well known and great to watch.


Let me know what you think. :-)