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on May 25, 2012
Being something of a Dickens purist, I very rarely watch new adaptations of his novels, television or otherwise, and after being badly disappointed by the BBC's 2011 soap-opera-like adaptation of "Great Expectations", I didn't exactly have high hopes for this film; in fact, I didn't even catch it when it first aired on PBS. After reading the novel (or half of one, anyway), I really wanted to see this and find out just what kind of ending the filmmakers came up with. I was astonished at just how excellent it was, and would rank it as one of the best productions of Dickens I've seen since "David Copperfield".

"The Mystery of Edwin Drood" was Charles Dickens' last novel; he was only able to complete half of it before he died in 1870. He intended his story to be a thriller, requesting that his publisher accept the book in twelve parts instead of the usual twenty. That being said, the film reflects that ideal in spades, clipping along at a nice pace that rivals even the best modern-day mystery novel and incorporating a healthy dose of psychological drama for extra suspense. The dramatic tension is there from the very first scene and doesn't let up until the end credits roll. Highly atmospheric and oftentimes chilling, it would be hard to imagine a more ideal production.

The second half falters a little bit, owing to the the lack of true Dickensian dialogue and plotting, but the numerous twists and turns and surprising character development never really feel as though he couldn't have written them himself. Some people might dislike the ending, but I found it unexpected and very appropriate. Dickens wasn't above resorting to using the "deus ex machina" device himself, so who's to say it doesn't belong here? While he probably had a different though equally surprising finale in mind, the one devised by screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes isn't exactly shabby.

The only real reservation I had about this film was that it would feel too "modern". To my delight, the historical side of the film is never once questioned: there's never a single moment over the course of all two hours where you don't feel that you're truly in 19th century England. The fact that it was actually filmed in Rochester, Kent, the place where Dickens based the fictional town of Cloisterham upon, gives it a whole new layer of authenticity.

I was also quite impressed with the cast. Not only do they look their parts, but they also perform them flawlessly, giving real yet Dickenesque portrayals. Freddie Fox is entirely wonderful as Edwin Drood, literally embodying the phrase "laissez-faire". Tamzin Merchant is a steady yet perhaps a little too pert Rosa Bud, but that would be my only complaint. The true star of the show is Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, who just lives and breathes the dark, brooding, obsessive opium-smoker John Jasper. He brings out the character's passive-agressiveness to perfection, and his intense, emotional performance will keep you on the edge of your seat.

In short, I absolutely loved BBC/Masterpiece's 2012 adaptation of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood", and would recommend it to anyone as one film not to be missed.
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on March 9, 2012
It was the novel Charles Dickens never finished. Halfway into the narrative, he suffered from a stroke and died the following day, leaving his mystery unfinished. No one knows how he intended it to end, but after a viewing of this recent adaptation by the BBC I must admit, it has a certain Dickens-esque style.

There is only one woman for John Jasper (Matthew Rhys). Unfortunately, she happens to be introduced to his younger nephew, Edwin Drood (Freddie Fox). An ambitious young man who dreams of foreign travels with a cherub face but has too little respect for his fiancé to please his uncle, he cannot seem to understand how blessed he is to be engaged to such a lovely girl. But Jasper is profoundly aware of it, so much so that his opium-induced fantasies in a darkened corner of a local den often include dispatching with his blonde nephew and taking his place in Rosa's arms. His attention is unnoticed by most but not by Rosa (Tamzin Merchant), who is uncomfortable with his affection and seeks to avoid him whenever possible. Having remained silent on the matter, she confides her concern to her new friend, Helena Landless (Amber Rose Revah), a recent arrival to the school from India.

Unfortunately, that very evening Helena's hot-tempered brother Neville (Sacha Dhawan) and Edwin come to a dispute in Jasper's rooms over the young man's treatment of Rosa in public, which leads to an estrangement that threatens to grow into something more as Jasper's obsession with the young woman deepens. His obsession with the crypt beneath the church also causes suspicion when Durdles (Ron Cook) is hired to carve a new monument for one of the graves, and the child commonly about the church and grounds has an encounter with the older man that leaves him shaken. But none of them are prepared for what is to come... and some of them may not emerge from it unscathed.

Writing an ending for a famous unfinished novel is no easy task, but I was impressed with this adaptation that takes a different twist than former versions I have seen. The writer consulted as much information as she could find about Dickens' intended ending and crafted a story that easily fits into his usual style, with frequent twists and turns in the final hour that bring all to light. Although this two hour film feels too short and ends rather abruptly (it is a conclusion that made me smile but long for more), it's also very cleverly written and full of the same wonderful characters Dickens is so known for, ranging from shut-in bookkeepers longing for fresh air to the ornery little boy who is always about chucking stones at people. It has occasional moments of sheer wit and hilarity, such as when the child complains that the singing of the choir could put a "good man off his lunch," but also some downright creepy material.

The best thing about it, however, in my opinion is the casting - Matthew Rhys is a brilliant John Jasper. He has the charisma to draw the audience to him and make them fond of him, even sorry for him, while at the same time hinting at a darker temper that keeps us continually on edge. Whether brooding in a corner or "devouring Rosa with his eyes," he mesmerizes us in a way that few actors accomplish. Some have complained that the second half is convoluted and absurd, with plot holes and melodramatic scenes, but I disagree... I think it is brilliant. I loved it and its darker nuances, as well as how neatly everything ties together based on small but significant clues in the first hour. That said, I would have liked another hour in which to further pursue some of the secondary characters and plot lines!

Maybe this isn't the ending Dickens envisioned when he created the unusual story of obsession and revenge but it is an entertaining and deeply thought-provoking way to spend an evening.
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I have always been fascinated by Charles Dickens' final and unfinished novel "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." It is a work that practically screams for different interpretations seeing that the project was left completely open-ended. And I've seen a lot of different takes on the material from the 1935 movie with Claude Rains to the stark 1993 British film and even the quirky musical (which opened in 1985 with Betty Buckley) that relied on audience participation to round out the solution. At heart, it is a tale that combines elements of the horror genre with those of a mystery to tell the sordid tale of a popular young man who goes missing. This Masterpiece Theater presentation takes the expected liberties but does maintain a distinctly Dickensian feel. It is structured in basically three narrative segments (over two installments). In the opening, we meet a cast of eclectic characters. After the disappearance, the film revolves around a couple of investigations that may have relevance to what happened. And the final bit pulls the major players together for a lengthy exposition describing the mystery's answer.

The story stars a committed Matthew Rhys as the sweaty, opium addicted John Jasper. Freddie Fox plays the titular hero, his nephew who seems to have it all. And Tamzin Merchant is the woman they both love. The other colorful characters include an enabling landlady, a opium purveyor, a well-meaning reverend, siblings from overseas, and a crypt keeper and his young assistant. There are a lot of characters to juggle in the opening sequences and, truthfully, some of their interactions didn't seem quite organic. This interpretation simply forced events that needed to happen without making them feel especially real. Still, the cast is engaging enough and up until the disappearance, things were on a pretty entertaining tract. While I was pleasantly involved in the set-up, though, I can't say the latter part of the show held up quite so well. Major characters vanished while others strove for answers to several different questions. But oddly, I was never connected to the pursuit of truth. And in the end, everything is wrapped up in lots and lots of dialogue that lost my interest completely.

If anything, I'd say this version suffers from a genuine lack of suspense. Merchant is nice enough, I suppose, but I'm not sure why she instantly bewitched every major character. And, as I mentioned earlier, I felt some of the principles lacked a noticeable motivation to interact the way they did. As I had only a tenuous connection to the characters, I really couldn't muster much excitement for the mystery. And the final resolutions were too pat and almost amateurishly written to explain every plot point away with convenience. Still, if you like Masterpiece Theater, I might make a tentative recommendation. Some of the smaller roles are quite amusing and Rhys is quite terrific. I would have loved to see his enthusiasm brought to a similar project with a better screenplay. KGHarris, 4/12.
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on August 23, 2012
That line from this production given to John Jasper near the end of the film sums up just how dreadful this "completion" of the unfinished Dickens novel is. Ridiculous soap opera conclusion tacked on to the story ruins an otherwise excellent production. I loved the acting, the visuals, and the first half of the film. The final thirty minutes or so make it all a bad joke, and I felt like a fool watching it until I turned it off five or ten minute before it ended. I was in Rochester last year and watched them film some of the scenes done in the cathedral graveyard which is immediately adjacent to the cathedral, so was hoping that I would enjoy the film. It's better to watch the film without the contrived ending, just as Dickens left his story - unfinished. Sorry. Just plain old bad writing ruins what might have been a good Dickens adaptation.
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on May 31, 2013
This excellent mystery drama, adapted from a novel by none other than Charles Dickens with an original ending by Gwyneth Hughes, is beautifully filmed in a dark, gothic style that's easily captivating. As with all Dickens, there's a wonderful host of distinctive and endearing characters but let me just comment on two of the most central: John Jasper who is both villain and victim, played by Matthew Rhys with an intensity and pathos that's utterly mesmerizing, while the Reverend Septimus Crisparkle (Rory Kinnear), provides a counter to Jack's melancholy as a paragon of virtue and compassion, inspiring an unexpected turn of events which lends a hopeful ending to an otherwise tragic story.

Be aware that this is a BBC movie presented in two-parts (not a series), but in spite of being rather lengthy will still make one loathe to press the pause button and ultimately left haunted by The Mystery of Edwin Drood. :o)
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on October 30, 2013
When I originally read "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" by Charles Dickens I was highly disappointed that it wasn't finished. In fact, it seems like he wrote himself into a corner and couldn't get out and so stopped. The story is about a man who is obsessed with a woman who is in love with someone else, his nephew. And then the nephew disappears while the uncle, an opium addict imagines that he has killed him so he can have the nephew's fiance. I could not imagine that someone would come along and make a good ending. It feels as if the screenwriter actually knew how Dickens meant to finish the story because this movie's plot does not disappoint. I loved the ending. Good job
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I have always been fascinated by Charles Dickens' final and unfinished novel "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." It is a work that practically screams for different interpretations seeing that the project was left completely open-ended. And I've seen a lot of different takes on the material from the 1935 movie with Claude Rains to the stark 1993 British film and even the quirky musical (which opened in 1985 with Betty Buckley) that relied on audience participation to round out the solution. At heart, it is a tale that combines elements of the horror genre with those of a mystery to tell the sordid tale of a popular young man who goes missing. This Masterpiece Theater presentation takes the expected liberties but does maintain a distinctly Dickensian feel. It is structured in basically three narrative segments (over two installments). In the opening, we meet a cast of eclectic characters. After the disappearance, the film revolves around a couple of investigations that may have relevance to what happened. And the final bit pulls the major players together for a lengthy exposition describing the mystery's answer.

The story stars a committed Matthew Rhys as the sweaty, opium addicted John Jasper. Freddie Fox plays the titular hero, his nephew who seems to have it all. And Tamzin Merchant is the woman they both love. The other colorful characters include an enabling landlady, a opium purveyor, a well-meaning reverend, siblings from overseas, and a crypt keeper and his young assistant. There are a lot of characters to juggle in the opening sequences and, truthfully, some of their interactions didn't seem quite organic. This interpretation simply forced events that needed to happen without making them feel especially real. Still, the cast is engaging enough and up until the disappearance, things were on a pretty entertaining tract. While I was pleasantly involved in the set-up, though, I can't say the latter part of the show held up quite so well. Major characters vanished while others strove for answers to several different questions. But oddly, I was never connected to the pursuit of truth. And in the end, everything is wrapped up in lots and lots of dialogue that lost my interest completely.

If anything, I'd say this version suffers from a genuine lack of suspense. Merchant is nice enough, I suppose, but I'm not sure why she instantly bewitched every major character. And, as I mentioned earlier, I felt some of the principles lacked a noticeable motivation to interact the way they did. As I had only a tenuous connection to the characters, I really couldn't muster much excitement for the mystery. And the final resolutions were too pat and almost amateurishly written to explain every plot point away with convenience. Still, if you like Masterpiece Theater, I might make a tentative recommendation. Some of the smaller roles are quite amusing and Rhys is quite terrific. I would have loved to see his enthusiasm brought to a similar project with a better screenplay. KGHarris, 4/12.
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on March 15, 2016
It is very dark and the dark side of human nature is repugnant to me so when I saw where it was going I turned it off. There are better things to do. If there is redemption in the end perhaps it would be worth the trouble I didn't care to wade through the muck to get there.
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on May 4, 2012
Since Dickens died before he was able to finish this novel, it is impossible to say what he might have done with the characters in the end. But I believe that this adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is definately Dickens-worthy. This film creates the foreboding sense of mystery that is unique to Charles Dickens, and I believe that it has an ending that Dickens would be proud of. Dickens can be counted on to tell his audience what life was like for the unfortunate and, true to life, his stories are at times rather "bleak". But another quality of Dickens' was his sense of justice; he almost always finds a way out for the heroes and heroines. I'll not give away any more of the film than this, but it is definately worth seeing.
On a final note, many things that once would have been considered good by everybody are held in contempt by today's crowd. I'm happy to say that, in this adaptation of Dickens' final novel, the time period and the ways of life during this time are dealt with respectfully. You will see no cell phones, facial piercings, or profanity in The Mystery of Edwin Drood!
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on February 9, 2014
I enjoy Charles Dickens' novels as they come to life on the screen, but I am not a huge fan of his written word. Dickens gets caught up in obsessively detailed descriptions of absolutely everything to such a degree that I find it hard to pick up the story line. The last time I attempted Charles Dickens in print I found myself shouting in the middle of chapter two, "good God man, I see it already! Now, let's get on with the plot!" Reading Edwin Drood several years ago was a similar experience. I thought it was a wonderful plot and I almost enjoyed it, but in the end I wasn't completely satisfied because the details often caused the story to stumble. As luck would have it, I stumbled across the excellent BBC Masterpiece Classic movie version of Edwin Drood which was completely satisfying. The movie was well cast with every actor quite convincing in their role. Matthew Rhys is perfect as the emotionally conflicted, opium addicted, older brother of the favored son, Edwin Drood. Child actor Alfie Davis, blew me away in a well-beyond-his-years portrayal of Deputy, the street urchin. All in all, a delightful performance.
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