For Dickens aficionados who own the first DVD Collection, but still want some more, this set collects five sterling BBC productions of some of the author's essential masterworks. (A rerelease of a 2006 set, the 2009 edition comes in five slimpaks and adds one program: 1960's Barnaby Rudge
, starring Nigel Arkwright, Newton Blick, and, in the title role, John Wood.) The best of the lot is David Copperfield
, starring a pre-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe as the tragically put-upon young Copperfield. Shot on film, this impeccable 1999 production is an embarrassment of riches, with a cast that includes Academy Award-winner Maggie Smith, who earned an Emmy nomination as the formidable Aunt Betsey, Oscar-nominee Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings
) as the cruel and sadistic teacher Mr. Creakle, a wonderful Bob Hoskins as the debt-ridden Micawber, Trevor Eve as David's loathsome stepfather Mr. Murdstone, and Nicholas Lyndhurst as the dastardly clerk Uriah Heap. Holding his own with this formidable ensemble is Ciaran McMenamin as the adult David, whose ultimate triumph is particularly hard earned. Rich with incident and populated by some of literature's most memorable characters, this production does satisfying justice to one of Dickens's most beloved and oft-told sagas. When it comes to a series of unfortunate events, Lemony Snicket has nothing on Dickens.
The Old Curiosity Shop, from 1979, stars Sebastian Shaw as the grandfather determined to provide a better life for his beloved and beautiful granddaughter, Nell (the winning Natalie Ogle). But his gambling leaves them at the mercy to the bent and malignant Quilp (Trevor Peacock). The lesser-known Dombey and Son, from 1983, is a tale of foolish pride, comeuppance, and redemption starring Julian Glover as Mr. Dombey, so determined that his son take over his business that he cruelly neglects his daughter, Florence (the heartbreaking Lysette Anthony). The Pickwick Papers, from 1985, is a welcome comic change of pace that follows the misadventures of "the immortal" (and comically rotund) Mr. Pickwick (Nigel Stock) and his three friends as they embark on the first expedition of "the corresponding society of the Pickwick Club." Shot on video, the latter three miniseries are somewhat stodgy in appearance. The adaptations are faithful to a fault, but Dickens' masterful tales provide inspiration enough for the casts who grandly rise to the occasion. --Donald Liebenson