There's one thing you should know going into this: I have a sort of a love/hate feeling about adapter Andrew Davies. (If you read my NRO review, you probably will have picked up on that.) He can be so incredibly good at bringing great works to life on the screen, and then he can turn around and be so coarse or tin-eared that he drives me up the wall. Please don't mind if I have a little one-sided discussion with him here and there; it's normal. (For me, I mean. Probably not for anyone else in the world.)
And I hope you won't mind my rambling, either. This is going to be way longer than my previous remarks on Dickens adaptations. There are an awful lot of details I wasn't able to fit into that NRO piece!
On with the show . . .
Mrs. Clennam's house is just exactly right. And so are Affery and Jeremiah, even to the head constantly on one side. I like this little flute (or piccolo?) motif they're using for Amy. (Note to self: Find out if the soundtrack is being made available.)
I will admit straight off that Matthew Macfadyen is a mite young to be playing 40-year-old Arthur. But then, if Derek Jacobi could play him when he was 50 (and looking -- how shall I put this? -- a good bit older than 50), why not go in the other direction and let a 33 year old take a crack at the role? Besides, for all the "Woe is me, I'm so old" attitude that Arthur takes up later in the story, he's actually supposed to be "young in appearance." Works for me!
Pet was never the sharpest knife in the drawer, but they've made her a total ditz. And a blonde. Coincidence? . . . All right, I'll stay away from the blonde jokes. But I do think that if an author makes a character a brunette, she ought to stay a brunette. Brunettes of the world, unite!
Freema Agyeman makes an excellent Tattycoram, with all that half-suppressed rage (wish they'd taken a moment to explain her name and why Miss Wade calls her "Harriet"). It seems silly to suggest, though, that she wouldn't have known originally why the Meagles family was taking her. It wasn't such an uncommon thing for a child or adolescent to be taken in on a servant basis. You see the idea in plenty of older books (Anne of Green Gables, for one), and even though we don't see it as a good idea now, to put it mildly, at least the Meagleses are kind to her, giving her a huge advantage over many other orphans in her situation. Their biggest fault is a lack of understanding, not a lack of kindness or sincerity.
Tom Courtenay is marvelous with that monotone of his. They're blending an awful lot from the book into one scene with the Dorrits here, but it's working, at least until they go a little overboard with the exposition. Amy's "I love you as you are" is perfect -- the keynote of her character, in fact.
This is a terrific little scene between Arthur and the waiter. I didn't list him in the credits because his part is so small, but a shout-out to Jonathan Slinger for infusing this tiny role with so much energy and interest. Very Dickensian of him to throw such a spotlight on a minor character. As for Macfadyen, his facial expressions here, showing Arthur shriveling up at the thought of facing his mother, are wonderful.
Arthur's old prayer book and his reaction to it suggest a train of thought that I won't go into here, as it might take up too much time and space in this post. (Yeah, I know, what's a few more words in an avalanche of them?) But I may touch on it later.
I LOVE the long, long, looooong buildup to Arthur and Amy's first meeting, only to have them brush by each other like the proverbial ships in the night. Good one, Davies! I also like the little flashback to Arthur's family when he was a boy. We hear so very little of his father in the book, but here, in this brief scene, Ian McElhinney manages to show a vulnerability that adds a lot to the family's portrayal.
It's a minor thing, but if Arthur could manage to lose that big old silly-looking hat somewhere, I would be a very happy girl. Pet continues to be a ditz. Must . . . not . . . make . . . blonde . . . jokes . . .
It's another minor thing, but I don't know why Mr. Dorrit has such an obsession with ensuring that people call his son "Edward" instead of by his nickname. It wasn't in the book, so I'm not sure what the point is. Just more snobbishness, I suppose. (Hey, I used "obsession" and "Edward" in a sentence. Maybe I'll get a few hits from Twilight fans. No, I didn't do it on purpose -- just realized it after I wrote the sentence -- but a hit's a hit, no matter where it comes from. And it wouldn't hurt them to hear about a good story . . . all right, I won't go there either. Back to business.)
Hold on here. Just HOLD ON. Little Dorrit does not snap at people. I don't care how feminist or twenty-first-century your perspective is, Little Dorrit does not snap at people. It's not in her nature AT ALL. Restraint, Davies, restraint!
Ah well, once that foolishness is out of the way, there's right away a lovely chemistry between these two. And their first scene with Maggy, though a little more truncated than I would like, is really cute.
Raise your hand if you expected Andy Serkis to tack a "My preciousssss!" on to the end of that "Lagnier!" The tone and look are exactly the same. I hope there's some scenery left by the time he gets done chewing it. A little over the top, but what the heck, Rigaud is meant to be a little over the top, and Serkis is clearly having a tremendous time with this part.
Wow. WOW. The staging of these Circumlocution Office scenes is brilliant. Somewhere Lewis Carroll is weeping with envy over these sets. (And somewhere, I hope, Emmy voters are making a note!)
Mr. Casby has way more hair than I expected. He looks like Santa Claus. But when you see him with the kids -- yeah, that works. Boy, does that work. Actually, I think he stole some hair from Pancks. I don't know if I can get used to a bald Pancks, not to mention a baby-faced one. I really don't know if I can get used to a Pancks who talks more than Flora -- that's not right at all. Ruth Jones is a very good Flora, though, but not as good as Flora on the page. I don't know if anybody could be; Flora on the page is simply inimitable. I'll have to run a few quotes from her sometime this week to demonstrate.
Macfadyen just nails the moment when Arthur sees Flora. Dickens says in the book, "Clennam's eyes no sooner fell upon the subject of his old passion than it shivered and broke to pieces." I think I would have gotten all that out of Macfadyen's face even if I'd never read those words.
"Made different down there"?? For the love of -- Davies, you did not just go there! Flora's statement from the book was pretty politically incorrect -- something about the Chinese ladies' eyes being different -- but come on. You didn't have to replace it with that. There's no way a prissy Victorian woman like Flora would say that in mixed company, even if you would!
(Did Pancks just do a Jell-O shot?)
I could live without scenes from Rigaud's sex life -- but it could have been way worse, so I'd better just count my blessings.
Back to the Clennam house (love the crooked camera angles they're using here). Claire Foy is really good in this scene, just listening to what's going on. There's a birdlike quickness and fluency to her movements that show her interest and her thoughts. (I noticed earlier that you could hear bird sounds when she was going into the Marshalsea, reflecting Dickens's language about how "the small bird, reared in captivity, had tamely fluttered in." We obsessive-compulsive English majors notice these things.) Arthur is so moving in these scenes with his mother.
The little scene where Arthur buys the flowers and sends the prostitute home is also unexpectedly moving. This one is original, not from the book. Very nice there, Davies.
(Did they really say "cramp my style" in Victorian England? Probably about as often as they did Jell-O shots.)
There's a scene during this night sequence that I really, really, really wish they'd filmed, where Amy sits outside with Maggy and daydreams about what it would be like to dance with Arthur at a party. Actually, I can hardly believe they didn't film it. It would have made the loveliest dream sequence, and catnip for the Austenites (not to mention me).
But she kept the button! Aww, how cute is that! Next thing you know she'll have a notebook hidden away somewhere with "Mrs. Arthur Clennam" scrawled all over it.
End of Part 1. If you've got any impressions to share, please post them below -- I'd love to hear them!