Recommended for: Ages 14 to Adult
Out of an interminable court case spin three young people each searching for their place in the world. Their story moves fast - swirling through an incredible array of characters from passionate young lovers to ruthless lawyers, form an ice-cold aristocratic beauty to a shrewd, relentless detective - until the final thrilling climax.
So I guess I never did write that book review on Bleak House, but here I am for the miniseries! Eight hours of Dickensian awesomeness. Though it's hard to call Bleak House awesome, because even though it's SOOOO good, it's also super extremely sad and a lot of bad stuff happens. I love it. I really do like Dickens, and I think, however much I love Great Expectations, that Bleak House just may be my favorite.
Can I just say fantabulous job all round? The people at the BBC know how to make a spectacular production. The adaptation was well done. While it isn't exactly the most quotable, it is so fantastically well-written and realistic. The acting was superb. I recognized nearly everyone from something else, but they were so good in these roles. The only ones I still had trouble watching because of other roles were Mr. Skimpole and Mrs. Chadband. And that's because I can't stand Agravaine and even dressed for that period and playing her role perfectly, Catherine Tate can't ever be anyone to me except Donna Noble. They were all so in character. They suited their roles perfectly and it was just amazing. Though it was fun to call them by other roles, like saying that Lady Dedlock has a plasmavore for a housekeeper, that Judy needed to go work in the morgue, or that Ada needed to be careful not to blink. And it kind of amused us that X-wing pilot Wedge Antilles made such a perfect Mr. Jarndyce. The costuming was superb and fit each character's personality. It's just so good. Every detail of production was handled in a way that made it all seem even more authentic.
So perfect. Dickens wrote about the times in which he lived, drawing on his own personal experience for inspiration, so I think it's safe to assume the source material is historically accurate. And, while the settings aren't all exactly how I pictured them, they still fit perfectly. From Tom-All-Alones to Bleak House itself, every setting is so unique and real. That's probably one of the biggest things that struck me about this production. It's all so real. So well done that it doesn't feel like watching a movie, but more like witnessing real events.
So, half the reason I really wanted to watch this was to understand it. See, I listened to the audiobook and it took me awhile to really pay attention to the parts that weren't Esther's narrative, so I was a bit lost on many points. This helped me to understand it. Yeah, they did change some things, like omitting Caddy Jellyby's wedding, the visit to Mr. Skimpole's family, not having Charley get smallpox first, SPOILER how they had Mr. Jarndyce propose to Esther face to face instead of in a letter, and having Lady Dedlock take off because Smallweed had showed up to tell Sir Leicester her secret rather than when she discovered she was a suspect in Tulkinghorn's murder END SPOILER, but it was still a very faithful adaptation. And my sister reminded me more than once that it was already eight hours long. They can't have everything. In true Dickens style, everyone turns out to be connected somehow, despite how complicated and individual each storyline at first appears to be. This story connects practically everything through the wretched case Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce in which no one can determine the actual will of the late John Jarndyce. Everyone sucked into the suit basically goes to ruin. It follows the stories of the wards in Jarndyce, Richard Carstone and Ada Clare, and Ada's companion Esther Summerson, Esther who is so sweet and kind that everyone loves her, including the rather creepy stalkerish Mr. Guppy. But I think I shall go into the character section of this review now.
Character Development: 5/5
Dickens has created some of the most memorable characters of all time. Many of them reside within the worthy classic Bleak House. My favorite is Esther. Of course. She's all the other characters' favorite. She's so kind. I also love Mr. Jarndyce. He's good and kind too, just such a great guy. Only my saying that would cause the wind to be in the east, likely. Ada is sweet too, and so pretty. Carey Mulligan did a fantastic job with her character. Despite his major responsibility issues, I actually like Richard. But at the same time, I want to slap him across the face and tell him to grow up, forget the Chauncery suit, and stick to an occupation so he can be the wonderful sort of man he he has the potential to be and the sort of husband Ada deserves. And I much like Allan Woodcourt. Who doesn't like a man who is super poor because he helps people without thought of pay? He doctors the dying street urchins just the same as he would the rich aristocracy, even though he knows full well they can never pay him. Then there are the other characters. Lady Dedlock is cold and distant, but we see in a certain situation that she does care for some people and that she is hiding a dark secret that must not be known. Mr. Guppy is, well, Mr. Guppy, sort of slimy, well intentioned, sort of, but quite creepy in his own way. Tulkinghorn is creepy in a scary way. You don't want to cross Mr. Tulkinghorn, or let him know your secrets. Harold Skimpole is so annoying. I know he is simple, "but a child," but he's so annoying. In a different way from Agravaine, but still. Smallweed..."Shake me up, Judy." Annoying, kind of gross (his teeth are yellow), this guy is memorably awful. "Judy, shake me up." There are so many more, like Caddy Jellyby, Prince Turveydrop and his father, Mrs. Rouncewell (once I discovered she was the plasmavore in Doctor Who, I couldn't help quoting "I even brought a straw" every time she came onscreen), Mr. George, Mr. Boythorn, Miss Flite, Mr. Krook, Charley, Jo, Mr. Vholes, Clamb, Inspector Bucket...There just isn't time to talk about them all, but they're all so vivid and quirky and unique.
Bleak House is certainly a Dickensian masterpiece and this production of it is true to all that it is. It's Dickens, so it's not exactly kid-friendly, but if you're in your mid to late teens or an adult, read it and watch it. It's super long, but it's worth it. SOOO worth it.
Note: This edition at least does split it up into the episodes in which it first aired, so it's really quite manageable.