In high school, I had some tough English classes. My junior year in Ms. O'Neill's class, most of our grade was to be garnered from a term paper on a famous work of literature. While exploring the idea of Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop, I read the first chapter. It was dense and hard to get through, so I decided on Tennessee Williams instead. (On side note, I recently learned that back in the day, authors got paid per word, rather than entire piece, which explains a lot, Mr. Dickens.)
That said, the BBC adaptation of Dickens' ninth novel, Bleak House, made me regret my decision. Despite its length, 15 installments over three DVDs, I couldn't stop watching. So much going on in this tale. At its center, there is a court case Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. The case has been going for years and years caused by two contrasting wills. There are two minors at its center. Then, there is the orphan, Esther Summerson (Anna Maxwell Martin). Her character reminded much of Jane Eyre...she is a young girl of little means. She is identified as "not fair" in her beauty, yet she is a hard-working, strong and kind woman, who ends up winning the hearts of several men. Miss Summerson carries around pain from the cruel aunt who raised her and made sure to let her know that she had be her mother's disgrace. But, will Miss Summerson discover her past? Learning her past could destroy lives.
The cast is enormous and includes many eccentric characters. Even minor characters are quirky. They possess fabulous names, including Smallweed, Tulkinghorn, Clamb, Dedlock, Flite, Skimpole, Woodcourt. The actors relish in calling out these names in a bombastic, entertaining fashion. (I'm reminded of Newman saying JER-ry and Jerry saying NEW-man.) Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock is cast perfectly. The cold and emotion-less Anderson and her much older, craggy-faced husband are an interesting couple. Mr. Tulkinghorn (Charles Dance) is the scheming blackmailer. Mr. Guppy (Burn Gorman), as the young solicitor in training, is also a delight, except during his stalker moments, which thankfully don't persist.
Period pieces are not for everyone. Think of this one as a mystery/drama. I found it extremely watchable.
Directors: Justin Chadwick, Susanna White
Run time: 470 minutes