by Allan Fish
(UK 2005 482m) DVD1/2
Shake me up!!!
p Nigel Stafford-Clark d Justin Chadwick, Susanna White w Andrew Davies novel Charles Dickens ph Kieran McGuigan ed Paul Knight, Jason Krasucki m John Lunn art Simon Elliott cos Andrea Galer
Gillian Anderson (Lady Dedlock), Charles Dance (Tulkinghorn), Denis Lawson (John Jarndyce), Anna Maxwell Martin (Esther Summerson), Carey Mulligan (Ada Clare), Patrick Kennedy (Richard Carstone), Richard Harrington (Allan Woodcourt), Timothy West (Sir Leicester Dedlock), Phil Davis (Smallweed), Tom Georgeson (Clamb), Ian Richardson (Chancellor), Pauline Collins (Miss Flite), Sean McGinley (Snagsby), Hugo Speer (Sgt George), Johnny Vegas (Krook), Alun Armstrong (Inspector Bucket), Matthew Kelly (Mr Turveydrop), Burn Gorman (Guppy), Nathaniel Parker (Harold Skimpole), Nathalie Press (Candy Jellyby), Anne Reid (Mrs Rouncewell), Liza Tarbuck (Mrs Jellyby), Tony Haygarth (Gridley), Lilo Baur (Hortense), Warren Clarke (Boythorn), Charlie Brooks (Jenny), Richard Griffiths (Bayham Badger), Joanna David (Mrs Badger), Harry Eden (Jo), Alastair McGowan (Mr Kenge), Michael Smiley (Phil Squod), Katie Angelou (Charley Neckett), Catherine Tate (Mrs Chadband), Robert Pugh (Mr Chadband), Bryan Dick (Prince Turveydrop), Alastair Galbraith (Brownlow), Dermot Crowley (Mr Vholes), Sheila Hancock (Mrs Guppy), Kelly Hunter (Miss Barbary), John Lynch (Nemo), Emma Williams (Rosa),
Upon the release of this splendorous production at the back end of 2005, critics old enough to remember an earlier classic adaptation of the same work twenty years earlier were divided as to which was the better. Both take very different paths; the earlier version was always interested in the big picture, so that the story flowed like it would if reading the novel. One might call it the purist’s version. This update was a far more radical piece, in that it took its inspiration back still further, not to the novel, but back to the serialisation of the work in the Victorian press over eighteen months from 1852-53. Then, by their very nature, Dickens fashioned their structure so that each instalment would end on a cliffhanger or potential climax, thus making readers all the more desperate to purchase the next instalment. The nearest one can do to this for TV is to concentrate the narrative so that, while keeping an eye on the bigger picture with its dozens of intricate plots and characters, you rather tailor it like a literary soap opera, so that mini-stories come to a close within each episode – perfectly exemplified in the sequence where Inspector Bucket solves the murder of Tulkinghorn. It pays wonderful dividends, as the emotional wallop that the final episode packs is quite a powerful one.
Undoubtedly, this is Davies’ finest and most audacious achievement among many adaptations of English literary classics, while directors Chadwick and White perfectly capture the rhythms of both the script and Dickens’ original tale, a savage indictment of the corruption and incompetence of the Courts of Chancery that leaves whole families and generations ruined (or, as Krook memorably says, “that Jarndyce and Jarndyce eats ‘em all up. It’s like being ground to bits in a slow mill”). Visually the film is stunning, too, more than happy to lurk in the darkness, emphasising the contrast between the haves and the have-nots and the shadowy dealing and atmosphere of Victorian (in)justice. More than anything, however, it’s a success of daring ensemble casting. Denis Lawson may not quite erase memories of Denholm Elliott but is still at his very best, Phil Davis, Alun Armstrong, Matthew Kelly and an unheralded Tom Georgeson offer perfect character vignettes, while Johnny Vegas is outstanding as the literally combustible Krook. Three turns, however, dominate; firstly Charles Dance as one of the nastiest pieces of work and justified of murder victims in English literature, secondly Gillian Anderson, a revelation as Lady Deadlock, half her performance told by her eyes, even arguably topping Diana Rigg’s famed performance in the original; perhaps most impressive, however, Maxwell-Martin as Esther, who miraculously makes her inherent goodness intoxicating. Essential.