237 of 249 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Actually better than the earlier version
For once, I am happy to find a remake of a fine old Masterpiece Theatre offering that is as good as the original. "Bleak House" is currently available on an DVD with Diana Rigg as the most familiar name; and except for some incomprehensible line readings by a young character named Joe, it is a very good account of the Dickens novel. Having already appeared on Public...
Published on February 14, 2006 by F. Behrens
32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Matrix goes to lit class
The good news: first-rate casting and acting, breathtaking sets and costumes, capable screenplay adaptation. The bad: Dickens' potboiler is nearly spoiled by excesses of murky, claustrophobic tight shots, dizzying cuts, and an appalling soundtrack.
The first irritant came early: the schlocky ambient loop "music" of the titles. In short order, the perplexing...
Published on July 29, 2008 by S. Ahern
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237 of 249 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Actually better than the earlier version,
For once, I am happy to find a remake of a fine old Masterpiece Theatre offering that is as good as the original. "Bleak House" is currently available on an DVD with Diana Rigg as the most familiar name; and except for some incomprehensible line readings by a young character named Joe, it is a very good account of the Dickens novel. Having already appeared on Public Television, the remake has Gillian Anderson (yes, the one from "X-Files") as Lady Dedlock, and a cast of 80 speaking roles, many of which are played by actors that will send you searching the cast listings that go by too quickly at the end of each episode.
The eight parts will be shown so that the first and last will run two hours and the four in between an hour each. I found the complex plot actually easier to follow in this version than I did in the earlier one. And while I prefer Rigg to Anderson, I think I can easily recommend this new adaptation over the other.
The story--lawyers will hate it--involves the infamous Court of Chancery in which disputes over estates can be buried for years until the lawyers' fees make further legalizing unnecessary. Against this background, the case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce being a major part of it, we have the story of John Jarndyce (Denis Lawson), his ward Ada (Carey Mulligan), her companion Esther (Anna Maxwell Martin), and Ada's beloved Richard (Patrick Kennedy).
The latter becomes obsessed with the case, while Esther becomes involved in the mysterious past of Lady Dedlock, who happens to recognize the handwriting on some legal documents delivered by the utterly immoral family solicitor Tulkinghorn (Charles Dance). I will not reveal any more of the plot, lest it spoil your enjoyment. You will wind up guessing much of it, but it is a lot of fun--unless you are a lawyer.
Peripheral to the plot are the usual cast of Dickens "characters": Krook the junkman (Johnny Vegas) who finds some incriminating letters (and dies the strangest death in all fiction), Smallweed the moneylender (Phil Davis) who cannot walk by himself and must be "shaken up" by his weird niece every few minutes and who gets the letters, and Miss Flite ( Pauline Collins) who looks forward to "judgment day" when her case will finally be settled and she can set her birds free.
Most interesting of all is the policeman Bucket (Alun Armstong), the first real detective in English fiction. Although he looks like a toady for the rich, he does his job and does it well, solving a murder case and being considerate to a certain lady who would suffer if her connection with the case should come out.
Of course, the arm of coincidence in Dickens is a long one; and while a good deal of the plot does strain credulity, the acting and period ambience are of the highest level. The only thing that annoyed me was the director segmenting his "establishing shots" (exterior views of buildings to let us know where we are) into two or three rapid cuts with some electronic "whoosh" for each one. Pretentious and irritating after the first dozen or so.
86 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deadlock. Debtor's Prison. Dickens!,
A simply magnificent production of Dickens. Read the Amazon editorial review above, I agree with all of it.
Dickens can be difficult to translate to film. His cartoonish drawings of his characters, both literal and literary, are the stuff of political lampoon. And he IS interested in politics; the politics of class, culture, the legal system, and how his characters are trapped in them, by situation, and by their own human choices. His characters and story lines are so intricate that they must have been manna for the readers of his (no tv, no film) time period, but they can sometimes be dry and dull for a modern audience.
Enter the skillfull writing of THE MASTER ADAPTOR Andrew Davies, and a production that careens and slams prison doors from one story to another, and we are briskly carried along... in this story of secrets, blackmail, and the endless wait for the legal system to do... something... anything.
As with most BBC casting, it is excellent... every single character not only LOOKS as they should, but can really act. Nice to see Gillian Anderson break through and prove that yes, american actresses really CAN run with the best of them, if they get the chance to. Anna Maxwell Martin as our lead protagonist is simply wonderful. She has the kind of looks that we do not get to see in the hollywood casting system. Her character does not rely on her appearance, because she knows she can not, but she becomes so dear to us, we care deeply about her, and her complexity and calm in the midst of chaos reveal her true inner beauty. Through her we see the souls of others as they respond to her.
Dickens is VERY interested in the devastation of the Brittish class system, and the costumes and sets bring this all darkly to life, from the filth and disease of the street urchins, the tattered foppishness of a dance instructor, the soldiers barracks and stark sleeping compartments, to the cluttered new money oppulence of Bleak House and the old dusty money feel of the house of the local aristocracy.
The beginning is slow... neccessary to introduce the whole population of characters, and just when you think the train will never take off, it speeds into overdrive, and you scream with dizzy joy like a roller coaster ride. We get all the benefits of todays cinematic language and style in telling, while losing none of the story and atmosphere. A really masterful, very modern production of an old Dicken's tale.
162 of 180 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Victorian Mystery,
I caught the first two hours of this adaptation of Dickens Bleak House on Masterpiece Theatre on Sunday night and I was immediately hooked. If you love dark Victorian mysteries this is a must see. I remember hearing promos for the show stating its starring Gillian Anderson but I thought it was some English actress with the same name as Scully from the X-files. What a shock when I realized I watched Scully for I did not realize it at the time it was her. Ms. Anderson becomes Lady Dedlock replacing her FBI professional pant suits outfits for a Victorian frock. Although common elements to both characters are repressed emotions and icy personalities. I have not read the novel but the show is emphasizing the mystery aspects of the story with Lady Dedlock trying to hide a secret from her past, how everybody's fate is somehow bound into the Jarndyce case over disputed wills and what role if any Esther plays in all of this. Also, the series focuses a sharp eye on the byzantine legal world of Victorian England that makes the US legal system seem the epitome of efficiency. Charles Dance is great as the ruthless barrister Tulkinghorn who sets his sights on uncovering Lady Dedlock's secret. Anne Maxwell Martin is great as the innocent and virtuous Esther Summerson. Besides Ms. Anderson some might recognize Mr. Dance who has seen roles in various movies and TV series including the villain in the Eddie Murphy Buddhist action-adventure movie The Golden Child, and Denis Lawson, who plays the benevolent John Jarndyce, was Wedge Antilles in the original Star Wars movies. Like any Dickens novel this TV series is filled with interesting often eccentric secondary characters from the young law clerk Mr. Guppy to Miss Flite.
The atmosphere is dark with lots of mist, fog and rain as one would expect in a Victorian novel. You have the contrast of the romantic elegant world of Lady Dedlock's estate and the cozy feeling of Bleak House estate with the grim, mud and muck that the lower classes lived in. The period costumes and sets are top notch. The series for me captures the essence of the Victorian period. Can't wait for the series to play itself out.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great acting, great story, lots of scenery chewing, and grand entertainment.,
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The time is the 1840's in Victorian England. The film opens with a court case being heard in what was then known as Chancery. A row of justices are hearing the case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, where an inheritance from several generations ago has the trouble of having several claimants, all of whom may be the correct ones. The case has dragged on for so long that people have committed suicide over the outcome, and others have grown withered and old waiting for a decision. As for the lawyers, they're estastic -- each one will be getting paid off first, and the longer they drag it all out, the more they'll get.
The story centers around two young people, Richard Carstone (Partrick Kennedy) and Ada Clare (Carey Mulligan), who are cousins and fellow claimnants to the Jarndyce inheritance. The courts have deemed that they are too young to be on their own, so another relation, John Jarndyce (Denis Lawson) has offered them his guardianship and a home at his estate, Bleak House. As it would not be seemly for Ada to be alone, he has invited another young woman, Esther Somerson (Anna Maxwell Martin) to be her companion, and as we discover, to help him run his house. Bleak House, we discover, is actually quite pleasant, and Mr. Jarndyce is one of those people we like to meet in the real world -- he warns both Richard and Ada that to pin their hopes on the endless case is foolishness, and instead do as he did and make their own way in the world. But young Richard, as we see, is feckless and more than a little stupid -- he can't turn away his hopes of the money, and so plays at picking a profession whether it is law, or medicine, or anything else that would turn a living. We are also introduced to a friend of Jarndyce's -- Mr. Skimpole (Nathaniel Parker) who claims to be 'innocent as a child in all things' and who happily battens off of others, in the most odious fashion.
On a neighboring estate, that of Sir Lester Dedlock (Timothy West) and his wife, Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson), there is also interest in the case. They are visited by their lawyer, Mr. Tulkinghorn (Charles Dance), who begins his own hunt when Lady Dedlock faints at the signt of the handwrighting on one of the legal briefs. Immediately, we're curious as to the why and who.
The who is Mr. Nemo (John Lynch), a law writer who makes a scanty living by copying out documents for the lawyers. He's also a sad, beaten man who finds solace only in opium. His neighbor, Miss Flite (Pauline Collins), a distressed gentlewoman, has her caged birds for company as her own claim goes on forever in the chancery courts, with little hope for the future as well. And Mr. Nemo's only friend it seems, is Joe, a young streetsweeper who has a very fateful encounter with Lady Dedlock herself at the end of the first two hour segment.
As we discover, not everyone in this tale will end happily or rich. Money, in some form or another, is the constant worry of this tale, along with a general condemnation of the law profession -- one result of Dickens' novel was that it created such an outpouring of anger at the Chancery Courts that the system was finally reformed.
This one is a cold, chilling portrayal of the two extremes of early Victorian England. At one end you have the ease of the Dedlocks, John Jarndyce and Mr. Tulkinghorn. At the other is the grinding poverty of Mr. Nemo, Miss Flyte, and Joe. In between there are the uncertain futures of Ada, Richard and Esther, and indeed most of the characters in the novel. Money, and the lack of it, is one of the major themes of the story, along with family secrets, greed and outright lies.
Some critics state that this was probably Dickens' finest novel. I'm inclined to agree, all of the characters are complex, with their own stories and desires giving them voice and depth. Too, Dickens' own wit and scathing humor is pretty evident in the dialog, and the names of the various characters throughout.
This version comes in at 510 minutes, in a DVD transfer that is quite nearly perfect. The lighting at times is haunting with the use of polarized filters, the sound is crisp, and the acting top notch. Whoever did the casting in this was dead-on in their approach -- the most intriguing of the characters, Lady Dedlock and Esther, are perfect. Costuming and set design are perfect for the period. Too, the art directors were careful in not wallowing in the poverty-stricken parts of the story, nor in moralizing, they just show things as they were, and let the audience make up their own mind in what can be right or just.
Another version of this was adapted for PBS/Masterpiece Theatre back in 1985, with Diana Rigg as the cold Lady Dedlock.
DVD extras include: subtitles in English,
This miniseries is one of the reasons why PBS?s Masterpiece Theatre and the BBC remain the gold standard as far as I am concerned. If you are curious about more about this novel or the miniseries, be certain to check out their links on [...]. Highly recommended.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute masterpiece!,
I saw a bit of this show when it aired on Masterpiece Theater on PBS, but then decided to wait for the DVD because the series had already begun and I wanted to see all of it. This is based on the Charles Dickens classic, which was first published as a serialized novel and is now available in one rather large volume, and has been adapted by the brilliant Andrew Davies. Bleak House is the typical Dickensian offering featuring a Victorian gothic atmosphere and a plot with mystery, intrigue, romance and tragedy with quite a few eccentric characters thrown into the mix. Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson) hides a terrible secret that could ruin her reputation and make her husband a laughingstock among his peers, and she'd do just about anything to obtain some rather incriminating letters. But the ruthless Mr. Tulkinghorn (Charles Dance) tries to get his hands on them first to gain power over the condescending lady. Meanwhile, Esther Summerson (Anna Maxwell Martin) is the maid of two young cousins hoping to sort out an old will dispute and obtain their estates. Esther hopes to get some answers from Mr. John Jarndyce (Denis Lawson) regarding her parentage, but discovers something quite unexpected from different sources. The Jarndyce and Jarndyce estate case is prolonged and often postponed by the courts, where greedy lawyers take advantage of the situation. The lives of all of the characters are connected somehow and what we get is a dark, compelling story centered on secrets and a corrupt legal system that literally dries up the hopes of getting justice.
The above synopsis is kind of sketchy, but that is because I don't want to give away any important plot points or twists and turns. I know how frustrating it is to read a review of a product with detailed spoilers and I don't want to do that to the potential viewer. Anyway, Bleak House is one of the best BBC productions I have seen. I've seen quite a few and have yet to find one that bombs. This one almost takes the place of North and South and Pride and Prejudice as my absolute favorites. This one comes to a close third. It's got fifteen half-hour episodes that keep you glued to the television. The production quality is top notch -- excellent cinematography (which was shown in high-definition), great dark sets that create the perfect tone, gorgeous Victorian wardrobe and beautiful scenery of the countryside. The cast couldn't be better. Gillian Anderson is brilliant as Lady Dedlock. I know Anderson is most famous for her role in The X-Files, but she has shown her range as an actress with this role and her portrayal of Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, which I watched some days ago. She has a very expressive face and can transmit many emotions with her eyes. Anna Maxwell Martin (who played Bessy Higgins in North and South) is another marvel as Miss Summerson. She plays a rather complex character with a heart of gold and a sense of loyalty for her friends. She is a very compelling heroine. Denis Lawson is wonderful as Mr. Jarndyce and Charles Dance is flawless as the villainous Mr. Tulkinghorn. I was also impressed with the actors who played the eccentric characters, like Burn Gorman as the infatuated Guppy, Philip Davies as the irritating Mr. Smallweed (I cracked up whenever he asked his granddaughter to "shake him up") and Pauline Collins as Miss Flite, the one with several birds waiting to be freed. This is a rather dark miniseries, there is some tragedy and various rather poignant scenes here, and the backdrop of the Victorian justice system is very insightful. All in all, as said earlier, this is a true masterpiece and I cannot recommend it enough. However, I do recommend that you read the novel first, for you may become lost keeping track of the plot lines and characters.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars no end in sight for English theatre tradition,
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The one Dickens novel I never read turns up in a brilliant realization from Andrew Davies, with mesmerizing characters and first-rate actors in another BBC success. Gillian Anderson refocuses her considerable acting chops to bring the luckless Lady Dedlock to perfect fruition. The relative scarceness of her scenes, and their critical importance to the story, makes her appearances even more tantalizing. The entire cast once again proves the English theatre tradition thriving, and is directed with consummate skill, and pride of detail. I love the redoubtable Pauline Collins as the quintessential Miss Flite, and Charles Dance is incendiary as the heartless Tulkinghorn. Anna Maxwell Martin (Esther Summerson) is a marvel to watch; she corners a self-assurance most actors only dream of, with ownership of every nuance of face and inflection - it's a huge performance of requisite Dickensian depth, perfectly tuned and delivered with the most gifted ease imaginable. It's worth every minute just to watch her copiously in her many scenes. Dickens' many minor characters never fail to justify their presence in his novels, however extravagant, and Bleak House has its profuse share. It's amazing how beguilingly the BBC has forged its remarkable history of mini-series of English literature; I can think of few, if any, failures. Bleak House is, bar none, one of its masterpieces. Nothing prevents an unqualified recommendation for an exquisite film experience more than worthy of the great Dickens.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Fantastic,
I have been on a Victorian-era kick lately (books, TV shows, movies) and decided to check out this mini-series on PBS. At the writing of this review I have promised myself to donate money to PBS for bringing such a masterwork to television. Emmy's all around for the cast and crew! I was especially surprised and delighted that Gillian Anderson was in it and playing a completely different character than we're all used to seeing her play. She is wonderful as Lady Dedlock. I have not read this book so I am completely intrigued as to what the connection with Esther may be and why Lady Dedlock has grown to favor her Lady's Maid in a more than platonic way. Another fun character is the lawyer Guppy who tries everything he can to win favor with Esther. I wholeheartedly recommend this mini-series and hope it receives the recognition it deserves. It's nothing short of brilliant.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant adaptation of a mammoth Dickens novel,
Running just under eight hours, in 30 minute doses, the BBC's television adaptation of Charles Dickens' mammoth novel BLEAK HOUSE is a stupendous success. Though it has been cast to perfection and is gloriously crafted, its chief asset is a brilliant teleplay by Andrew Davies that makes a 1000 page novel exciting, engrossing, and fully understandable. And co-directors Justin Chadwick and Susanna White make the action move furiously fast. This is television at its finest, and Dickens would be enthralled.
At the center of BLEAK HOUSE is the court case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce, which has been dragging on for decades. Three very sympathetic young people are potential heirs to a vast estate: Ada Claire (Carey Mulligan), Richard Carstone (Patrick Kennedy), and Esther Summerstone (Anna Maxwell Martin). Esther has mysterious parentage, hence a need for a true and up-to-date family will. The young heroines are staying with likeable and wealthy John Jarndyce (Denis Lawson). Family lawyer Tulkinghorn (magnificent Charles Dance) deals with an unpleasant money lender named Smallweed (Phil Davis), who may or may not have the original will in his possession that could hold the key to the whole case. Tulkinghorn sets about comparing handwriting in all the documents he can lay his hands on, while Smallweed berates his timid clerk Mr. Guppy. Lady Dedlock (the fabulous Gillian Armstrong) is also a key figure in the action. Is she guilty or not guilty of a major murder that takes place 2/3 of the way through? And what is her relationship to Esther?
The audience knows more than the characters, so we have a lot of suspense. But even the audience is caught off-guard when the mysterious past of Lady Dedlock is finally revealed. Writer Davies is also superb at focusing major attention on the important characters and keeping the lesser characters in the background. These include the timid law clerk Mr. Guppy, a nasty French maid who is a key murder suspect, police inspector Bucket (Alun Armstrong), and bird lover Miss Flite (Pauline Collins). Warren Clarke (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE a long time ago) has a small role. The cast is mostly unknown to me, except for the never-better Charles Dance and Gillian Armstrong. The ending is a very ironic, yet also happy one.
As stated above, this is the 15 part British television version of BLEAK HOUSE, in convenient 30 minute segments in case you want to do one a night after work and dinner. I got caught up in the exhilarating and atmospheric story fast and did the whole thing in three nights. It comes in three equally convenient parts in the DVD boxed set--175 minutes, 145 minutes, and 145 minutes. You can even hit "Play All" and do all three hours or two-and-a-half hours without moving from your chair or bed, except for a bathroom or food break as an episode break. For "Masterpiece Theatre" on American public television, I believe it was in 60 minute doses with recaps at the beginning of each episode. Those recaps are not on the DVD, seemingly were not shown on the BBC presentation, and could be helpful. But watch this whole supremely watchable and glorious Dickens adaptation in three consecutive nights, as I did on DVD, and you should have no problem in following the intricate story. It is all an irresistible invitation to tackle the huge novel. Don't let the eight hour length scare you off. This is as exciting and gripping as mystery television gets. And the entire cast is fabulous.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will Entertain the Dickens Out of You,
I don't believe I have ever seen a clasic novel so accurately and stunningly brought to the screen. The story is a bit overwhelming at the start as we are introduced to so many characters, but hang in there as the rewards are many. The Amazon editorial review perfectly captures my feelings about this mini-series. I only wanted to cast my 5-star vote for such a quality product. Gillian Anderson fans are highly encouraged to view this. Her depiction of Lady Dedlock is icily and eerily erotic. But the whole cast is flawless and the screenplay perfect.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shake Me Up!,
For those who would rather see the exact same production as 1985 with different actors, I suggest they purchase the "olde" one. But for those who want an adaptation that attempts a different approach and takes advantage of the advancements in video technology, I can't recommend Bleak House more heartily. Shakespeare is no longer pigeonholed into one style. While I'm not suggesting that Dickens adaptations would work set in the 20th century, because the Victorian Era is so integral to his novels, I think the use of modern editing techniques, and the steadycam, etc. is wonderful in Bleak House. I purchased the Dickens Boxset, and while I really enjoyed the recent BBC versions of Martin Chuzlewitt and Our Mutual Friend, I got bored with the older and staid "Hard Times," which suffered perhaps from a lack of funding, and screamed of tv set design, and still camera work. Older television does not stand up well in general. Nothing matches the superb series of recent times like the Sopranos, Rome, the Wire, and Prime Suspect, and Bleak House is right up there with them. Dickens originally wrote Bleak House in serial form, I believe, so why not leave a delicious cliffhanger at the conclusion of episode four (when it was aired). Which left the viewer with so much anticipation as to how the story concludes. When I went to the Strand bookstore in NYC to buy a copy of Bleak House, while it was first airing in the States, they were completely sold out! What better testament to the power of a great adaptation to rekindle interest in the great "masterpieces".
One question: can anyone tell me if the dvd includes a "making of" as in "Our Mutual Friend?" Having recorded "Bleak House" I would need some extra tidbits to purchase the DVD, although I will make a contribution to PBS in any case!
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