By John Kyriacou, guest blogger
(Note: This post contains some spoilers.)
I watched the first two episodes of Dickensian earlier. My overall impression is that the cast and crew have done a great job, and the series is a treat.
The first episode was almost like eating a huge Christmas pudding in one sitting. Too many characters were introduced and too quickly (less is more, as they say). While it was fun playing "spot the character," this whirlwind of characters might have been a tad confusing for those unfamiliar with Dickens. I think the first two episodes should have been broadcast together, in one chunk, as the second episode slowed the pace, allowing some breathing space.
So far, the only character I could not place was Fanny Biggetywitch. I am a bit surprised as I thought I knew my Dickens! I am not sure whether Fanny is perhaps a minor character in a Dickens sketch, or whether Jordan made her up from an amalgamation of other characters?
Tony Jordan's fidelity to Dickens characterisation seems very good so far, and the acting is of a high standard throughout. Stephen Rea is excellent as Inspector Bucket, and made a great double act with the comic actor Omid Djalili as Mr. Venus in the second episode, which promises much. Ned Dennehy's turn as Scrooge gave me quite a few laughs, and Pauline Collins was delicious as Mrs. Gamp (though some Gamp fans may miss her eccentric way with words -- no "dispoges" here, I'm afraid). Peter Firth was very impressive as Jacob Marley, and in a sense, it's quite a shame that Jordan bumped him off so early on, as, in this adaptation, he is one of the darkest characters Dickens never fleshed out. So nasty was he, that there was a spontaneous cheer in my household when he pegged it.
I think it's a good idea that Tony Jordan has chosen to concentrate (in these early episodes at any rate) on storylines that are either completely new (the murder of Jacob Marley) or backstories that Dickens didn't describe at great length (the history of Miss Havisham and Honoria Barbary). I think this gives Jordan's script space to breathe without breaking into areas that Dickens's readers (and/or people who watch Dickens TV adaptations) are over-familiar with.
Although there were touches of comedy throughout (Mrs. Bumble dragging Bumble out of 'The Three Cripples pub was a particular highlight), and there are "in jokes" for Dickensians, I hope that the series increases the comedy elements.
The set is quite remarkable (I know it cost a small fortune), and the interior sets, very well done. However, the exteriors are too much like a "chocolate box" design for my liking. It's nowhere near gritty and dirty enough (no need for any cross-sweepers here, for example). By contrast, I thought the depiction of London in the smashing recent series The Frankenstein Chronicles was far more realistic.
In closing my impressions of Dickensian, I'd like to say I initially came to Dickens by being taken to the cinema as a child to watch the musical adaptation Oliver! (1968), which led me to the wonderful novel (and I've been hooked ever since!) I hope Dickensian, other than providing entertainment in itself, will spark interest in particular characters or sets of characters, that will similarly bring others to the magnificent original texts.