BLEAK HOUSE. (2005) THE BBC DRAMA SERIAL REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

gillian-anderson-bleak-house

BLEAK HOUSE. (2005) THE BBC TV DRAMATISATION BASED ON THE BOOK BY CHARLES DICKENS. DIRECTED BY JUSTIN CHADWICK AND SUSANNA WHITE.

STARRING GILLIAN ANDERSON, TIMOTHY WEST, CHARLES DANCE, ALUN ARMSTRONG, ANNA MAXWELL MARTIN, DENIS LAWSON, ALISTAIR MCGOWAN, LIZA TARBUCK, PHIL DAVIS, CAREY MULLIGAN, JOHNNY VEGAS, WARREN CLARKE, SEAN MCGINLEY, JOHN LYNCH, BURN GORMAN, SHEILA HANCOCK, CHARLIE BROOKS, IAN RICHARDSON, HUGO SPEER, PAULINE COLLINS, CATHERINE TATE, RICHARD GRIFFITHS, NATHANIEL PARKER AND MATTHEW KELLY.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Shake me up, Judy…!’

This fifteen-part mini-series is a magnificent piece of work; a televisual feast, if you will, with a cast so impressive it’ll knock your socks off. It’s Victorian London, of course, with frequent forays into the English countryside to visit rich people’s country homes when the plot calls for it.

The titular Bleak House is the home of wealthy, middle-aged bachelor John Jarndyce. He’s kind and generous and open-hearted, which is why he gave a home, years ago, to the orphaned Esther Summerson, who is now his housekeeper.

Esther has no idea who her parents were. All she knows for sure is that she was ‘her mother’s ruin and disgrace.’ It can’t be comfortable, growing up with that kind of stigma pressing down on you like a layer of bricks, and with a genuine mystery shrouding the issue of where you’ve come from.

Esther is extraordinarily well-adjusted, compassionate and sensible, though, and she is generally loved by everyone with whom she comes into contact. Indeed, she has three suitors make love to her (in the Victorian way, that is, all earnest declarations and no sexual contact!) during the course of this seven-and-a-half hour televisual masterpiece, and all three of ’em still desire to connect their fates to hers even after she contracts the smallpox through playing Florence Nightingale to a young urchin, and becomes scarred. Now that’s what I call true love.

Also staying at Bleak House are Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, a pair of young lovers who are known as ‘the wards in Jarndyce.’ Let me explain. Jarndyce and Jarndyce is a court case that’s been going on in the English Court of Chancery for donkey’s years. Ian Richardson plays the officiating judge in the case. If ever an actor was born to wear a judge’s wig and talk dead posh in a court of law, it is surely he.

Ada and Richard are the two latest claimants to have a vested interest in the case, in which an old codger years ago left some conflicting wills when he popped his clogs. The only people currently benefiting from the case being dragged slowly and painfully through the courts are the lawyers. Isn’t it always the way? Absolutely no change there then, haha.

Ada and Richard are advised not to get their hopes up too much as regards inheriting this old geezer’s fortune. This case could go on for years, they’re told. It may never be resolved, they’re warned, and not without good reason, either.

Ada, being a typical female with a loving heart, cares only about the dashing young curly-haired Richard, but Richard makes the mistake of throwing his whole heart and soul into the case, which has broken bigger and better men than he. Will it cost him more than he’s prepared to pay…? (You know it will, lol.)

Charles Dance is superb as the terrifying Mr. Tulkinghorn, Attorney-At-Law, who is lawyer to the rich and privileged. He is not accustomed to having underlings talk back to him or tread on his toes and, by Jove, if they do, they’ll not do it a second time.

He’s unscrupulous and immoral and he’s not at all above a spot of blackmail if it lines his own pockets. He is feared, hated and despised by those who run afoul of him, and when someone finally does take a pop at him, there’s a line of suspects a mile long. It’s like the ‘Who Shot Mr. Burns?’ episode of THE SIMPSONS, lol.

His richest clients are Sir Leicester and Lady Honoria Dedlock, played by Timothy West and Gillian Anderson, who goes on to play Miss Havisham in the 2011 BBC TV dramatisation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

Sir Leicester lives in the sort of cloud-cuckoo-land inhabited by many rich aristocrats of the time. He doesn’t have a clue what kind of conditions the poor people of England are forced to live in, and it really gets his goat that his housekeeper’s son, a Mr. Rouncewell, has risen up from lowly beginnings to become a rich factory-owner. It doesn’t affect him adversely in any way whatsoever; it just gets up his nose to see a povvo rising through the ranks to become a man of substance.

Sir Leicester, to give him his dues, does really love his beautiful, much younger ice-queen of a wife, his Lady Dedlock, but she is one desperately unhappy woman. Lonely, by her own admission ‘bored to death with the weather, bored to death with her life and bored to death with herself,’ and she has a sad, shocking secret into the bargain that some of the more unscrupulous characters in this dramatisation seem determined to bring out into the open, purely for their own financial game.

Characters like the vile, evil Mr. Tulkinghorn and his long-suffering clerk, Clamb; Johnny Vegas as the aptly-named landlord, alcoholic and hoarder, Mr. Krook; Mr. Guppy of Kenge and Carboys, an ambitious young clerk who woos- or tries to woo!- Esther Summerson and who intends to rise in his profession, despite his Cockney accent and slightly odd facial features. Remember, young Guppy, you insolent puppy, love is not love which alters when it alteration finds!; and, last but definitely not least, Mr. Smallweed the moneylender, possibly the most repulsive and self-serving of all of Dickens’s villains. He makes Bill Sikes and Fagin the miser look like graduates (with honours) from charm school, he’s so disgustingly awful and foul-tempered and rude. ‘Shake me up, Judy…!’

Gillian Anderson is utterly sublime as the cold, distant Lady Dedlock, the woman with the boarded-up heart. Every inch the proud, haughty, arrogant aristocrat when the situation calls for it, she is nevertheless a broken, deeply wounded woman who once loved deeply and now keeps her heart under lock and key where no-one can touch it. Except that all kinds of vulgar riff-raff are now rattling at the lock and it’s only a matter of time before one of them penetrates to the inner sanctum. Must Honoria Dedlock pay for the sins of poor unhappy Honoria Barbary…?

Gillian Anderson’s face is just so fabulously photogenic; her eyes, her mouth, the planes of her face all combine to form a gloriously nuanced whole that reflect perfectly every emotion she’s required to express, from aristocratic disdain to heartbroken despair. It’s no coincidence that there are more close-ups of her boat-race than of anyone else’s in this TV dramatisation. She has a face to die for, the kind that could easily launch a thousand ships. THE X FILES‘s loss was surely Dickens’s gain…

There are plenty of other familiar faces here too. Alun Armstrong (he plays Daniel Peggotty in the TV dramatisation of DAVID COPPERFIELD) portrays Inspector Bucket (Are you sure it’s not pronounced ‘Bouquet,’ Inspector?), the copper who’s called in to solve the murder of a very high-profile- but deeply despised- man. Pauline Collins (SHIRLEY VALENTINE, the original UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS) plays the appropriately-named Miss Flite, the crazy old bird-lady.

Hugo Speer (THE FULL MONTY; remember ‘The lunchbox has landed,’ and ‘Oh, hiya, Gerald, I di’n’t see you there!’) plays a decent man pushed to his limits by the dreadful Mr. Tulkinghorn and the possibly even worse Mr. Smallweed, who’d sell his own mother for a few quid and throw in his sister as well for a few shillings more, if he had a mother and sister, that is.

Harold Skimpole (Nathaniel Parker) is, in his own refined way, even more detestable than Tulkinghorn and Smallweed put together. ‘A perfect child in such matters’ he may be, but a dangerous, spoiled child, who does as much damage in his own way as the more obvious and less genteel of Dickens’s villains. Did you hear what he says about his wife and children? The callous bastard! He needs a wake-up call, does Harold Skimpole.

Charlie Brooks, aka Janine from EASTENDERS, plays a povvo with an abusive husband, and Di Botcher the mother of another of Esther Summerson’s valiant suitors, a Welsh medic called Allan Woodcourt. As is usually the case with these big budget TV dramatisations, the viewer can have great fun playing spot-the-minor-celeb in the various roles.

Gillian Anderson and Charles Dance steal every scene they’re in and, when they’re acting together, it’s a toss-up as to who gets the better of whom, each of their characters being as cold and hard as the other and each as determined as the other not to let their guard down.

But the tragic Lady Dedlock has at least loved once, that we know of, has written billets-doux to a lover and lost that lover in painful circumstances. It makes her more human to us. Has the odious Mr. Tulkinghorn ever said ‘I love you’ to anyone but his own reflection in the shaving mirror? I wouldn’t bet on it…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. (1977) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

nick cover

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. (1977) BASED ON THE BOOK BY CHARLES DICKENS. DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER BARRY.

STARRING NIGEL HAVERS, PETER BOURKE, DEREK GODFREY, ROBERT JAMES, KATE NICHOLLS, HILARY MASON, DEREK FRANCIS, PATRICIA ROUTLEDGE, PATRICIA BRAKE, DAVID GRIFFIN, PATSY SMART AND LIZ SMITH.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Charles Dickens does good misery. GREAT EXPECTATIONS is rife with it. OLIVER TWIST positively overflows with it. DAVID COPPERFIELD has a goodly amount also. NICHOLAS NICKLEBY is no exception to the rule. The misery oozes out the sides if you are unwise enough to squeeze it.

The titular Nicholas Nickleby is barely out of his teens when his papa has the bad taste to pop his clogs without leaving his small family provided for. In Victorian society, this almost amounts to a death sentence.

Certainly, it is a sentence of shame, penury and humiliation in the eyes of your betters as you are forced to seek a situation almost certain to be beneath you socially, or worse, seek the charity of others or the state. (‘Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?’)

Nicholas, his pretty younger sister Kate and their silly flutterbudget of a mother are obliged to throw themselves on the mercy of their late father’s/husband’s brother Ralph Nickleby, a wealthy but heartless businessman in whose person the milk of human kindness appears to have dried up somewhat.

Think Ebenezer Scrooge, but without the benefit of that gentleman’s three ghostly visitations. Ralph dislikes Nicholas on sight, thinking him uppity and too opinionated, but our Nicky just says straight out what he thinks. He calls it like he sees it, and has a strong sense of justice and fair play which is to be commended.

Uncle Ralph is instrumental in Kate’s getting a situation as an apprentice milliner and dressmaker at Madame Mantalini’s, of which more later, and in Nicholas’s acquiring a position as assistant schoolmaster at Dotheboys (pronounced, my dear readers, pho-net-ic-ally!) Hall. This is a school in rural England (Yorkshire, in fact) so horrible it makes Old Creakles’ Salem House in DAVID COPPERFIELD look like a luxury spa by comparison.

The revolting gammy-eyed and snaggle-toothed Mr. Wackford Squeers, a rum cove indeed, charges twenty guineas a year to board boys unwanted by their families at his dreadful so-called ‘school,’ in which food is scarce, holidays scarcer and physical abuse plentiful.

Mr. Squeers has a fat objectionable son, a game-eyed objectionable daughter and a thin objectionable wife. Altogether they are a most objectionable family, and allowing them to run a school is a bit like putting a cat in charge of a small platoon of mice.

Still, anyone who wanted to run a school was allowed to run a school back then, no questions asked. Fred and Rose West and Jimmy Savile could have gone into the boarding school business together and no-one would have said ‘boo!’ to ’em. I’n’t that a shockin’ thought?

The fiercely principled young Nicholas falls afoul of the dastardly Squeers when he rescues a pathetic young orphaned slave called Smike, who has worked and lived in the school since he was a lad, from Squeers’ clutches. Nicholas gives Squeers a goodly dose of his own medicine while he’s at it, and Squeers is not one iota thankful for it.

Smike gladly returns to London with young Nickleby, but the pair must flee again when dear kindly old Uncle Ralph threatens to cut off his financial assistance to Kate and Mrs. Nickleby if Nicholas lives with them. The two lads go as far as Portsmouth, where they stay for a brief spell as part of Mr. Crummles’ theatre company. But then a mysterious note arrives for Nicholas, telling him that his sister Kate is in grave danger…

Nicholas arrives in London just in time to save his much-desired sister Kate from deflowerment and dishonour at the hands of two boorish swells, namely Sir Mulberry Hawk, by far the more offensive of the two and a proper Bentley Drummle to boot, and the aptly named Lord Verisopht, snigger, who represents about as much danger to the Nicklebys as a two-day-old trifle. Hawk, now, he’s one to watch, all right…

The timely entry into Nicholas’s life of the two identical twin brothers, the aptly-named Charles and Edwin Cheeryble, provides Nicholas with both a well-paid situation and also a cottage for himself, his mum and his sister Kate to live in. Now that Nicholas is earning a good wage, there is no need for Kate to work any longer for the Mantalini’s, who in any case have gone bankrupt, thanks to the poor spending habits of Mr. Mantalini.

The Mantalinis are a funny couple. Mr. Mantalini is a dandy, a gigolo, a popinjay, a fop with an eye for the ladies, whom I bet talks with a pure Cockney accent under his posh flowery foreign affectations. He’s a bit like Mr. Micawber in DAVID COPPERFIELD, always in pecuniary difficulties, always threatening suicide in scenes of high drama when he gets in too deep but never going through with it. Mainly because he’s, like, one hundred percent putting it on. Like Wilkins Micawber, he too has a devoted spouse of whom he’s not worthy.

The long-suffering and much older Mrs. Mantalini is played by Patricia Routledge (Hyacinth from KEEPING UP APPEARANCES). She keeps her dressmaking and millinery business going with the help of Mrs. Knag (Gretchen Franklin, or Ethel from EastEnders), while her husband eyes up her female workforce and runs up so many bills that she actually has to go to Ralph Nickleby’s place of business to ask him to put her spendthrift hubby on a fixed allowance. Much to Mr. Mantalini’s horror, I might add. He’s determined to put an end to it all, but if Wifey will only reconsider about the fixed allowance thing, well, he might just consider putting off suicide for a day or two. Just for a day or two, mind! He’s still going to do it, my life, my sweet, my love, just you watch him and see!

Anyway, Nicholas is happy and settled working for the two lovely Cheeryble brothers, but who’s that coming down the chimney at the cottage, of all places? Had Santa Claus been invented by that stage? You know, I don’t actually know. But what I can tell ya is, it ain’t him…!

And why is Nicholas so determined to prevent the marriage of the hideous old codger-slash-miser Arthur Gride to the beautiful, good-natured young Miss Madeline Bray? Could he have a vested interest, perhaps? A romantic vested interest, maybe?

(Gride’s frowsy old gin-sodden maid has the marvellous name of Peg Sliderskew; Dickens is great for making up hilarious names. Don’t tell me he didn’t have a giggle when he connected Kate to the household of a Mrs. Wititterly, or when he decided to call his wimpiest fop Lord Verisopht…!)

And to whom is Emmett from KEEPING UP APPEARANCES (‘She’ll sing at me, Liz, she will!) hoping to pay court, the old romantic? Just wait till Hyacinth finds out about this, there’ll be noses out of joint all over the shop. Yoo-hoo, coffee in ten minutes, Elizabeth…!

Newman Noggs, assistant to Ralph Nickleby, is a great character. He’s a true friend to Nicholas, as is Mr. Jagger’s clerk Wemmick to Pip in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, and is very helpful to the young Nickleby in the matter of the poor, miserable runaway Smike.

Can the deplorably ill-treated Smike, perpetually sickly and simple-minded, by the way, be kept out of the clutches of the abominable Wackford Squeers, and what is the mystery surrounding Smike’s birth? Where or what is that little attic room with the trapdoor in it he seems to remember? And what does the disreputable blackmailer Brooker have to do with it all?

(I’m afraid I don’t like Smike at all, even though he’s been ill-used and Charles Dickens is clearly presenting him as the victim here. I don’t like his soft, whispery way of talking and the way his mouth goes all over to one side when he speaks. To think he has the audacity to admire Miss Kate, and he a drooling simpleton! He must be out of his mind to even give the thought house room. Humph. Miss Kate, indeed! She may as well marry a chimney sweep who’s come down with the chilblains…!)

Also, can the animosity between the fair-minded Nicholas and his Scrooge-like Uncle Ralph ever be resolved? (Ralph Nickleby has a secret but he doesn’t even know it; can Nicholas ferret it out sometime soon, before it’s too late?) And if never the twain shall meet, how will it all come out? You’ll have to watch this six-part serial to find out, dear readers. Or you could read the book, whatever. It’s all good…!

(I believe that this story is still available in, erm, whatchamaycallem, books, in book form, anyone with eyes can, erm, whatsit called now, erm, gottit, readit…!)

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

DAVID COPPERFIELD. (1999) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

david copperfield

DAVID COPPERFIELD. (1999) A BBC PRODUCTION: BASED ON THE BOOK BY CHARLES DICKENS. DIRECTED BY SIMON CURTIS. TOM WILKINSON AS THE NARRATOR.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Like many fond parents, I have in my heart a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.’ Charles Dickens.

‘Barkis is willin.”

‘Janet, donkeys! Donkeys!’

David Copperfield the book is a mammoth achievement on the part of its writer Charles Dickens. Nearly a thousand pages long, it details the life of the titular David Copperfield from his baby days to much, much later on in his life, and in such detail it would truly take your breath away. I’ve been reading the book myself this year and was delighted to find this film version of it, which was first broadcast on the BBC in 1999, on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Everyone loves a bit of Dickens at Christmas, whether it’s his perennial festive favourite A Christmas Carol, or Great Expectations, Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby or any of his other works.

His books are immensely popular when it comes to screen adaptations, the way Shakespeare’s works lend themselves so readily to staging in the theatre. It’s fantastic the way we’re still familiar with Dickens and his oeuvres nearly a century and a half after his death.

In this version, a pre-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe in his first screen role plays David as a child. His childhood at the Blunderstone Rookery in Suffolk is idyllic, spent with his adoring mother Clara Copperfield and even more adoring nurse Clara Peggotty, played by Birds Of A Feather star Pauline Quirke, who’s perfect in the role.

David’s childhood is all tender cuddles and endearments and picture books and gentle tuckings-in at bedtime. His father has pre-deceased him, so David’s childhood is a thoroughly feminine affair.

His blissful existence changes when David returns from a visit to Yarmouth, where he has been staying at the shore with Peggotty’s kindly seafaring brother Daniel (Alun Armstrong: This Is Personal: The Hunt For The Yorkshire Ripper), Daniel’s nephew Ham, Daniel’s niece Little Em’ly (who is not Ham’s sister) and a weeping widow by the name of Mrs. Gummidge, played by Patsy Byrne, the actress who portrayed Miranda Richardson’s dotty old Nursie in comedy series Blackadder.

David returns to Blunderstone Rookery, from the happiest holiday of his whole life, to find that his lovely sweet mother has married her horrible suitor, the grim, black-clothed, stern-faced and joyless Mr. Murdstone, played by an unrecognisable Trevor Eve (Shoestring, the Frank Langella Dracula.)

Mr. Murdstone brings his equally horrible sister Jane, played by Zoe Wanamaker, to live with them, and between them they pretty well terrorise both mother and son. Their only ally is now the wonderful Clara Peggotty, who would die for either of her precious charges in a heartbeat.

After an altercation in which David is savagely whipped by Mr. Murdstone, his nasty step-father sends him away to boarding school against his mother’s wishes. But it was very much what happened to the sons of well-to-do men in the Victorian era. The boys and their mothers had little or no choice in the matter.

At school, the boys were whipped by their teachers and by older boys (for whom they were forced to ‘fag’ or skivvy), made to learn a load of dry, dusty old Latin, algebra, theorems and trigonometry while deprived of most material comforts, and then they left school damaged, broken, determined to take their revenge on the world and with the most intense sexual hang-ups about being flogged that would never leave them. Okay, so I’m making a generalisation here but you get the idea.

David’s head-teacher, the sadistic old Creakle, played by Ian McKellen, is practically addicted to whipping the boys in his rather dubious ‘care.’ David’s only friend and protector is, rather luckily, the arrogant young toff Steerforth, without whose patronage David would undoubtedly have suffered much more in his schooldays.

When David’s bullied and broken young mother dies, not long after giving birth to Mr. Murdstone’s child, Murdstone removes a heartbroken David from school (heartbroken about his mum, not about leaving school!), begrudging the money that would be required to pay for the boy’s education.

He then forces him to work in a London blacking factory of which he is part-owner. It’s no more than slave labour and David is bullied there by the older boys. I’m not sure what a blacking factory is but it seems to involve a great many icky barrels of boiling hot tar. Not exactly the place for a vulnerable child.

David is happy to lodge with Mr. Wilkins Micawber (genially played by Bob Hoskins), however, one of Dickens’s most enduring characters. Married (his wife is played by Imelda Staunton) with several children, Mr. Micawber is constantly in debt, constantly hiding from his many creditors, constantly having to pawn everything in the house in order to have money for food and constantly living in the optimistic expectation that something positive will ‘turn up’ to save his family from starvation and his family name from a perpetual blackening.

The main thing you need to remember about Mr. Micawber is that you should, under no circumstances whatsoever, ever lend him money. It will undoubtedly be the last you see of it. He’s free with his IOUs all right, but unfortunately you can’t eat those. 

While lodging with Mr. Micawber, David has the experience of visiting his friend in Debtor’s Prison and of becoming intimately acquainted with the local pawnbroker, played by comedian Paul Whitehouse. When the Micawbers move away, on the promise of something’s unexpectedly having ‘turned up,’ David decides he’s had enough of the factory.

He runs away to Dover, to the one relative he has left in the world, his wildly eccentric Aunt Betsey Trotwood, played by Maggie Smith. David is as happy as Larry living with his Aunt Betsey and her no less eccentric but kindly and well-meaning lodger, Mr. Dick, played by Ian McNeice.

Aunt Betsey goes to bat for him against the odious Murdstones and, even when she does send him to school, it’s to a nice decent school in Canterbury. While there, he lodges with Aunt Betsey’s cordial lawyer Mr. Wickfield and his beautiful daughter Agnes, who treats David like a brother and becomes a lifelong friend. David has fallen on his feet here, lol.

The star of the whole show is Nicholas Only Fools And Horses Lyndhurst as the startlingly red-haired and sinister clerk of Mr. Wickfield’s, Uriah Heep. Being ‘umble’ is Uriah’s thing. Falsely ‘umble, that is, pretending he’s content to stay a lowly clerk when his ambition secretly knows no bounds. He’s the kind of poisonous wretch, however, who prefers to get ahead by bringing others down and trampling on their broken bodies on his way up the ladder to take their place.

He has his evil eye on Mr. Wickfield’s business and, even more disturbingly, on Mr. Wickfield’s lovely daughter Agnes, and he loathes David from the start, seeing him as a competitor for both ‘commodities.’ He tries to hide his hatred for David under a simmering veil of ‘umbleness,’ but I think both men know the real score. Can David prevent Uriah from doing the ultimate damage to his dearest friends…?

There’s so much more to the story. He meets the love of his life, Dora, and he entertains ambitions himself of becoming a writer, even though his grounding is in the law. My favourite storyline in the whole book/film is what happens to Little Em’ly and the poor devastated Peggotty family when David unwittingly releases a viper into their collective bosom.

And, as the cast list reads like a Harry Potter ‘pre-union,’ may I suggest that, as brilliant as Trevor Eve is in the role of Mr. Murdstone, a black-haired and hatchet-faced Alan Severus Snape Rickman might have been even better?

Michael Boone Elphick plays Peggoty’s suitor Barkis, and Cherie Lunghi is cast in the role of Steerforth’s autocratic mother. Thelma Barlow, who for years played the fluttery Mavis Wilton, Rita Fairclough’s sidekick, in Coronation Street, here portrays Uriah Heep’s mother (‘Be ‘umble, Uriah, be ‘umble!’). Comedienne Dawn French is the tipsy Mrs. Crupp, David’s landlady when he first lives independently. As adaptations go, this is an excellent one, and with an all-star cast to boot. It’s well worth three hours of your time. I say go for it…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

OLIVER TWIST. (1948) A MOVIE REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

fagin

OLIVER TWIST. (1948) BASED ON THE BOOK BY CHARLES DICKENS. DIRECTED BY DAVID LEAN.

STARRING ALEC GUINNESS, ROBERT NEWTON, KAY WALSH, HENRY STEPHENSON, FRANCIS LOFTUS SULLIVAN, MARY CLARE ABSALOM, DIANA DORS AND JOHN HOWARD DAVIES.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘It’s the old story… no wedding ring…’

Okay, so we’re probably all agreed that Lionel Bart’s 1968 musical version of this story is the best one. Wonderful songs like FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD, CONSIDER YOURSELF, YOU’VE GOT TO PICK A POCKET OR TWO, I AM REVIEWING THE SITUATION and OOMPA-PAH have been belting out of peoples’ tellies every Christmas for the last fifty-odd years. It’s a flawless film, the kind of film that gives musicals a good name.

But this 1948 re-telling of the Dickens classic is a proper corker too, even if the cast doesn’t burst into full-throated song every five minutes, lol. Its opening scenes are magnificently atmospheric in a dark brooding kind of way and deal with a subject that’s only implied in the musical version, that is to say, the arrival of Oliver’s beautiful young mother at the workhouse across the moors in the middle of a thunderstorm.

She’s already in labour and in terrible distress, both physically and emotionally. She gives birth to the child in the company of an ancient crone and a doctor, then ‘takes one look at ‘im (Oliver) and promptly dies,’ as the marvellous Harry Secombe as Mr. Bumble informs us in the musical version.

She is wearing an expensive locket that would lead to her highborn identity- and her child’s- being uncovered and to Oliver’s being restored to his wealthy and caring blood relatives, if it were brought to the attention of the proper authorities.

But the locket is unfortunately stolen by the old crone who attends the miserable workhouse birth, and so Oliver is brought up ‘on the parish’ like any other wretched orphaned waif. Poor kid.

Francis Loftus Sullivan was born to play a beadle. He’s brilliant here as Mr. Bumble, the workhouse official who places Oliver Twist with the undertaker Sowerberry after Oliver draws the short straw, asks for more chow at dinner-time and gets ejected from the workhouse after due consideration by the gluttons- sorry, by the gentlemen- of the Board.

The apprenticeship at the undertakers’ goes tits-up when Oliver runs afoul of Noah Claypole, Mr. Sowerberry’s nasty little assistant. A very young blonde-bombshell-in-waiting Diana Dors plays Charlotte, the Sowerberry’s slatternly maid, by the way. She’s already a beautiful woman, though this role’s not quite as glamorous as some of her later ones…!

Oliver, as we all know by now, runs away to London and falls in with Fagin the Fence, the vile receiver of stolen goods and corruptor of London’s youth, and his little band of pickpockets, cut-throats and thieves. Alex Guinness does a top job as Fagin, the Jewish miser whose huge hooked nose, straggly beard and voluminous rags all proclaim him to be a scoundrel of the first water.

He sends his boys, the Artful Dodger and Charlie and all the lads, out into the metropolis each day- ‘Cheerio but be back soon!- to rob and pilfer wallets, jewellery, silk handkerchieves and whatever other gew-gaws and fol-de-rols the toffs of London might be carrying about their exalted persons. He sells on the stuff and keeps most of the proceeds for himself, the scallywag.

When the green-as-grass and scrupulously honest Oliver is taken out for the first time with the Artful Dodger and Charlie and he sees them robbing an old gentleman, Oliver gets the blame and finds himself up before the Beak or Magistrate. And no, a Beak ain’t a bird’s mouf…!

The old gentleman who was robbed, however, a courtly old toff called Mr. Brownlow, is kindly disposed towards the sick and ill-treated Oliver and takes him home to live with him. It’s a strange but fortuitous ‘twist’ of Fate- lol- that will eventually lead to the discovery of the truth about Oliver’s true parentage.

Fagin and his band of villains and thieves, including the housebreaker and all-round bad guy Bill Sykes and his girlfriend Nancy, are all up in arms about Oliver’s new circumstances. What, Oliver taken? This is a disaster!

What if he peaches, blows, squeals, snitches on the gang and reveals their names and whereabouts to the law? They’d all be for the drop. (This is how they described the jolly process of being hanged.) ‘If the game were up with me, Bill, I fear it would be up with a great many more besides, and it would go rather worse with you than it would with me…’

Fagin puts the fear of God into Bill Sykes. Bill resolves to get the troublesome Oliver back at any cost, even though the kindlier and more compassionate Nancy, with a heart as big as all-outdoors, would prefer to leave the poor child where he is. One day, the couple see Oliver out walking by himself, running an errand for Mr. Brownlow. It’s only a matter of minutes before he’s back in the clutches of the gang and the die is cast…

The marriage of the pompous but not entirely heartless Mr. Bumble to the horrible Mrs. Corney, the self-serving, cold-hearted auld Bitch-With-A-Capital-B who runs the older folks’ workhouse, is both a source of mirth and terror.

Imagine ending up in a marriage as awful, as abusive and utterly joyless as this one. ‘If that’s what the law believes, then the law is an ass! The law is a bachelor, and the most I would wish for it is that its eyes would be opened by experience, Sir. By experience!’

Poor Nancy shares the same fate as the Nancy in the musical version, but it somehow seems grimmer and more dreadful here in stark black-and-white. There’s a very poignant moment when, after the terrible deed is done, Bill Sykes is looking round their bedroom at all the little things that were Nancy’s, her hairbrush and perfume bottles and powder puffs and her side of the bed.

There is something very poignant about someone’s belongings after they’ve passed on. Remember Vera Duckworth fondling dear old Jack Duck-Egg’s spectacles after his death in CORONATION STREET? The whole of Britain and Ireland were reaching for their hankies…!

The book goes one better and portrays Bill Sykes as being most dreadfully haunted by the ghost of the murdered woman after he does what he does. He flees to the countryside after the murder but is so tormented, both by what he’s done and also by the spectral sightings that chill his blood, that he ends up returning to the city, hue-and-cry or no hue-and-cry. Better the devil you know, eh, Billy Boy…?

I love the scene in the film where Nancy’s talking in secret with Mr. Brownlow on the very steps that lead down to the mighty Thames, while the Artful Dodger is concealed, listening for all he’s worth, just around the corner. This super-atmospheric scene is also in the book, though not in the musical version.

Want to hear some random facts about the 1948 film? Kay Walsh who plays Nancy was married to David Lean, the director. David Lean also directed the superb 1946 film version of Charles Dickens’s ‘GREAT EXPECTATIONS,’ starring John Mills as Pip, Valerie Hobson (THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, WEREWOLF OF LONDON) as Estella and Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham.

Mary Clare Absalom who plays the awful Mrs. Corney was an absolutely stunning beauty in her youth, and was also a stage actress and silent movie star. Kathleen Harrison, Mrs. Sowerberry, also plays the charwoman Mrs. Dilber opposite Alastair Sim in the superb 1951 film version of SCROOGE. 

The film’s producer, Robert Neame, was the father of Hammer actor Christopher Neame, who plays Johnny Alucard, Dracula’s little bitch, in DRACULA AD 1972, opposite Christopher Lee. Hattie Jacques from the CARRY ON movies has a cameo role here as a singer in the Three Cripples tavern.

Finally, Alec Guinness’s performance and make-up as Fagin caused great offence in certain circles, especially the outrageously oversized hooked ‘Jewish’ nose, because it was all thought to be desperately anti-Semitic. Not a cool thing to be accused of in the very recent aftermath of the Holocaust, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

John Howard Davies makes a great Oliver, just as good as if not better than Mark Lester from the musical version. This black-and-white version is overall of terrific quality and the equal of the musical, but you just can’t beat those familiar old songs. All together now: ‘As long as ‘e needs me…’

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

 

HARD TIMES BY CHARLES DICKENS. (1854) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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HARD TIMES BY CHARLES DICKENS. (1854)

A BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I loved this book when I had to study it in school, just like I loved every other book of Dickens’s when I read it. Does that make me unusual, being a female person who likes Dickens and now reads him voluntarily, for pleasure, and not just because I have to answer exam questions on him? I don’t know, all I know is that I dig him. His understanding of the social mores of his day are really quite extraordinary.

Not only that though, but he’s endlessly funny as well, especially when it comes to depicting characters who have a highly inflated sense of their own importance. Characters like Mr. Bumble, the ‘porochial’ Beadle in OLIVER TWIST, which I read for Christmas this year, or Mr. Bounderby in HARD TIMES. We’ll get to him- old Bounders- in a minute, lol.

First let me introduce you to a Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, one of the leading lights not only of HARD TIMES, but also of Coketown, the grim, smog-wreathed fictional industrial town in Victorian England where the novel is set. Here’s what Dickens says about Mr. Gradgrind:

‘Thomas Gradgrind, Sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over… With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, Sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all suppositious, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind- no, Sir!’

It’s important to understand how pragmatically practical, hard, cold and fact-based is Mr. Gradgrind’s belief system, or else nothing that follows will make sense. He eschews all fun and fancy, supposition and wonder, and he brings up his two eldest children, Louisa and Tom, under the yoke of the same harsh belief system.

They may privately long for some fun and fancy, but they know better, much better than to ask for it. They would only be directed straight back to their studies of fact-based sciences and mathematics. They are steeped in ‘ologies,’ you might say. Biology and bacteriology and etymology and every other ‘ology’ you might care to name.

‘Run along and be something-ological directly,’ their invalid mother tells them when they become too tiresome. Mrs. Gradgrind, who recedes into her bundle of shawls when life becomes too much for her (as it frequently does), is completely unable to cope with or comprehend her husband’s strict belief system.

It goes over her head, she is baffled by it. She worries all the time, perhaps, that she ‘will never hear the last of it.’ It’s not until the very end of her days that she has the courage to question even slightly the wisdom of the fact-based upbringing that was forced upon her children by their father. If only she’d acquired the courage sooner…!

The aforementioned Mr. Bounderby- Josiah Bounderby of Coketown, by Jove!- is the best friend of Mr. Gradgrind’s and a prominent local landowner and business-owner in Coketown to boot. Abandoned by his mother at an early age, a fact he never tires of telling people, he was dragged up by the bootstraps by a harsh and uncompromising Life, which Life has made him The Man He Is Today.

Namely, made of stern stuff and not expecting to be fed venison with a gold spoon every five minutes, as is, apparently, the dearest, most heartfelt wish of the Coketown ‘Hands,’ the nameless, faceless underlings who run his textile mills and other businesses for him.

He’s a braggart and a boaster and a bluffer who makes a constant pretence of a humility he doesn’t really feel. He has his eye on Louisa Gradgrind, even though he’s a good thirty years older than her. When Mr. Gradgrind tells Louisa that she must take Bounderby for a husband, she shrugs and says why not? What does it matter, when nothing else does?

A life without fun, laughter, love and life in it is barely worth living so why not? Why not marry old Bounderby, when one rubbish life experience is exactly the equal of another? As I don’t care either way, she tells her father, I might as well do what you ask. The marriage takes place.

Mrs. Sparsit, an ancient, Roman-nosed lady distantly related to ‘the quality,’ a fact of which neither she nor Mr. Bounderby ever tire of reminding people, is Josiah Bounderby’s house-keeper. She has her own matrimonial plans in relation to Mr. Bounderby, and is therefore immeasurably pissed off when he marries the much younger and prettier Louisa Gradgrind.

Spiteful old Mrs. Sparsit is thrilled skinny- well, maybe not skinny, never that!- when a dastardly young hound by the name of James Harthouse starts work with Mr. Bounderby and immediately sets his cap at Louisa.

Mrs. Sparsit is a nasty, prying old biddy who’d like nothing more than to see Louisa brought low and she, Mrs. Sparsit, installed in the younger woman’s place as mistress of the Bounderby house and estate.

Louisa by now is nearly dead inside emotionally, having had all and any finer feelings- or even attempts at same- hammered out of her, first by her father and then by her dreadful posturing husband, with his endless fake humility and making out loudly and brashly that he’s a self-made man who dragged himself up out of the gutters by the thumbnails.

Bored out of his selfish, foppish skull, James Harthouse decides that the thing he wants most in the world is to see Louisa smile at him the way she does at her brother Tom, whom she adores and who also works for Mr. Bounderby. Not in the same capacity as the Coketown ‘Hands,’ of course, who toil in the mills every day like the workers from Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS, but in a more official, gentlemanly capacity.

Harthouse can’t stand Tom, incidentally. He calls him ‘the whelp’ and does nothing to dissuade him from descending ever further into a terrible maelstrom of gambling debts that will ultimately be the ruination of him. Harthouse is a pretty much disreputable character.

If he persists in his affair with Louisa Bounderby, a married woman, however unhappily, she’ll be ruined in the eyes of society forever. (You might think that that’s not a big deal nowadays but it was back then, especially for women.) And for what? Because this little jackanapes James Harthouse was bored and wanted a challenge? The bastard…!

Sissy Jupe, the young orphaned girl taken in by Mr. Gradgrind and initially raised according to that gentleman’s beloved ‘system,’ is the one ray of light in the grey and gloomy House Of Gradgrind.

Born and bred in a travelling horse-riding circus, Sissy is a girl of many unusual qualities. She even manages to bring out the one solitary teensy-weensy shred of conscience in James Harthouse, if you can believe that, and is of immeasurable help to Mr. and Mrs. Gradgrind and the poor lost Louisa.

You see, Thomas Gradgrind’s ‘system’ doesn’t have any more effect on Sissy than water off a duck’s back, luckily for the Gradgrinds. It doesn’t ‘take’ with her, you see, and because of that she’s able to lead at least three Gradgrinds, gently and delicately and so as not to seem like she’s leading them at all, out of the murky darkness of the ‘system’ and into the light.

Mithter Thleary With A Pronounced Lithp, if you please, is the owner and ringmaster of Thleary’s Travelling Thircus, and a great friend to Sissy and the Gradgrinds too, in the end. If this book had been filmed in the 1940s or the 1950s, the lovely cuddly character actor Miles Malleson would have been the perfect choice to play him.

Mr. Sleary puts one of Dickens’s main messages in a pretty neat nutshell. People need fun, and laughs and entertainment. They can’t be ‘allus a-working.’ And people are neither facts nor statistics, either, they’re people. 

How right he is. A happy, rested employee is a good employee. Mr. Sleary, for all his lack of any formal education, is streets ahead of the socially ‘superior’ Mr. Gradgrind in this particular matter.

Mr. Gradgrind isn’t a bad man at all, mind you, just severely misguided. When his beloved ‘system’ of facts and statistics collapses and he sees the results of it in his criminal son Tom and his broken daughter Louisa, he himself becomes a broken man.

I do love, however, when Tom, lately turned bank-robber and fugitive from the law, throws his father’s words back at him at the end. In a given period, x number of employees will steal from their employers. This being the case, when Tom himself turns round and steals from his employer, namely Mr. Bounderby, how can it be Tom’s fault?

The statistics speak the truth, don’t they? How can Tom help it if he’s just another statistic? This is one of the statistics once so beloved of Mr. Gradgrind, Superintendent of the School Board and responsible for filling so many little minds with the facts he craves. One gets the feeling that this grievously wounded gentleman won’t be relying on facts and statistics for solace and comfort in the future again.

It’s also hard on Mr, Gradgrind when he is confronted, in the form of Bitzer, ‘the light porter,’ with the very evidence of his ‘system-in-action.’ Have you no heart, he appeals to Bitzer, who is only too glad to rattle off the biological facts that go to prove that, undeniably present in his chest cavern, there beats the physical organ known as ‘the heart’ without which he wouldn’t be breathing and walking and talking and a-taking of ‘Young Tom’ here into custody, and surely Mr. Gradgrind, that well-known lover of facts, is aware of such a fact-based thing…?

Dickens brings in the Unions a lot as well and the poor wages and poor housing conditions of the Coketown ‘Hands,’ and indeed, their conditions are terrible. Unfortunately, however, I failed to like his main working-class hero, Stephen Blackpool, whose accent was drawn as being so thick that I could barely decipher it at times.

Plus he was a miserable git as well. So his wife’s an alcoholic miscreant who won’t give him the divorce he needs to marry Rachael, the real love of his life. Big whoop! We all have our troubles, our crosses to bear. Go out, have a few pints with friends and loosen up a bit. It’s not the end of the world.

I also disliked his mopey martyr of a girlfriend Rachael. Although I felt thorry- oops, I mean sorry!- for them both (ith thurprithingly hard to thop lithping once you thart!), I was much more interested in the actions and activities of the swells. The toffs. The big nobs. The gentry. The, as the Artful Dodger would surely put it, ‘Quali’y.’

Mr. Bounderby and Mrs. Sparsit are my favourite characters, and both long overdue for a come-uppance. How hard are the mighty fallen and all that. Dickens handles these come-uppances beautifully. Good on ya, Charlie. You da bomb.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor