Scandalous secrets, strangling bureaucracy, and crippling debts collide in the compelling BBC/Masterpiece Classic adaptation of Charles Dickens' weighty novel, which debuted in serial form in 1855. Mrs. Clennam (Judy Parfitt), a shut-in, kicks the complex storyline into action when she hires 21-year-old seamstress Amy Dorrit (newcomer Claire Foy, a warm and sympathetic presence) just days before her son, Arthur (Matthew Macfadyen, Pride & Prejudice
), returns to London after 15 years at sea. Amy lives with her proud father, William (a heartbreaking Tom Courtenay), in Marshalsea, the debtor's prison where Dickens' own father did time. Despite his mother’s denials, Arthur becomes convinced that there's a connection between the Clennams and the Dorrits, so he attempts to solve the mystery on his own, with help from sniveling rent collector Pancks (Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky
) and hindrance from surly servant Flintwinch (Alun Armstrong, New Tricks
) and the aptly-named Circumlocution Office.
Last filmed in 1988, Little Dorrit offers material--about greedy lenders and eager investors--ripe for reinterpretation. If the series doesn't surpass Bleak House, a high-water mark in Dickens adaptations, screenwriter Andrew Davies still does the author proud, despite a sketchy subplot concerning a miserable maid and her mysterious protector. But some things never change, and Dickens presents ample scene-stealing opportunities, of which Amanda Redman as a chilly socialite, Pam Ferris as a shallow governess, Russell Tovey as a lovesick suitor, and Andy Serkis as a Gallic psychopath--his creepiest character since Gollum--take full advantage. In the featurette, cast and crew provide a perceptive look at the making of this timely drama. --Kathleen C. Fennessy