Monday, February 27, 2006

Bravo Dickens ...

The PBS bropdcast of Bleak House concluded last night. I'm glad I saw Maxine's recommendation at Petrona last month. I thought it was a great way to spend several Sunday nights. Gillian Anderson, best known over here as Agent Scully on The X-Files -- a series I never watched -- was superbly moving as Lady Dedlock. But the character who impressed me most was John Jarndyce, excellently done by Denis Lawson. The portrayal of goodness is extremely difficult and Jarndyce is a believably good man. His freeing Esther from her pledge to marry him is an example of true love -- bene volentia, willing good for another, even at great cost to oneself.


  1. "Bleak House" was the most satisfying, enjoyable, and stirring bit of television my wife and I have watched in months. Dickens didn't write no boring stuff. (The Brits made another multi-part series out of the novel about 20 years ago, with Diana Rigg as Lady Dedlock, and it was nothing compared to this one.) My own favorite was the fellow who played Smallweed ("Shake me up, Judy!"), orange-yellow teeth and all. And Guppy, so terribly needy and obsequious that you feel quite sorry for him.

  2. Yes, it was a great production. It has just been released as a DVD over here in the UK so maybe you can get that in the US also. It was shown in TV here as half-hour chunks as Andrew Davies thought this was more authentic. I prefer the "most at one go" approach.

    I love all the bits you have identified, Melville and Frank. I too have never seen the X-files or Gillian Anderson in anything, and I was impressed. Denis Lawson is good in everything he is in (in my opinion). He acts on stage a lot, but did anyone see the movie Local Hero? A film of the US-UK (Scottish, actually) cultural divide, very charming. It was one of Burt Lancaster's last roles. I would recommend it for a cold evening in -- also great music from Dire Straits in their heyday if you like that kind of thing. Denis Lawson is worth a look in that film (was the first time I had come across him).

    I also remember him years ago in a TV version of Lucky Jim, but Kingsley Amis not exactly my cup of tea, a bit dated now. (Quite enjoyed him when younger, and he wrote splendid, curmudgeonly Spectator-style columns.)

  3. The DVD of "Bleak House" is to be released in the United States tomorrow (Feb. 28), or so I have read. Kingsley Amis's "Lucky Jim" is, I think, the best/funniest campus/college novel ever (though Mary McCarthy's "Groves of Acadame" begs to be considered). At least one movie and one TV program have been made of it, neither very good. Myself, I've liked almost everything he did, even when he got all gnarly and right-wingish. Also, he was right about his son Martin's books (he didn't care for them very much).

  4. Mention of Martin Amis brings to mind some wag's description of him as being "nasty, British and short." How many people remember him as a child in the film version of A High Wind in Jamaica?
    As for Kingsley, I highly recommend his memoirs, which are hilarious -- especially his description of teaching in this country.
    But back to Dickens. I didn't realze that Denis Lawson had been in Local Hero. He was excellent as Jarndyce. I detested Smallweed (the character, not the actor, who was superb) and was ambivalent about Guppy (also very well played).
    But we have failed to mention perhaps the best performance of all: Charles Dance as Tulkinghorne. What a wonderful villain!

  5. Bingo! as to Kingsley Amis's memoirs. I had thought of singling them out in my previous entry. And you make me realize, Frank, that I should have clarified that I was referring to the performances of Smallweed and Guppy, not to the characters. Wonderfully done. I tend to think of acting as a lesser art (and I still do as I write this), yet when you think how a good actor's performance can completely take you out of yourself, well, isn't that akin to what a good writer can do? "Nasty, British, and short"? Wonderful. I'd never heard that, nor that he had a role in "High Wind in Jamaica."

  6. There was an profile of Charles Dance in The Times a week or two ago in which he said he had to beg for the part of Tulkinghorne. Can you imagine it? He was brilliant.

    Did anyone see him in his first (to my knowledge) role, "The Jewel in the Crown", a 1980s (?) UK TV series of the Paul Scott quartet. Like most films of books, the series did not quite match the books, but they came pretty close. Charles Dance was the main character, and a nation instantly fell in love with him.
    I have noticed the DVD of this series on the UK Amazon is very cheap, I can highly recommend it, but it is about as long as Bleak House or longer.

    I did enjoy Lucky Jim -- but Kingsley Amis is often thought of as a one-book person. He wrote that quite late book which rehabilitated him a bit -- was it called "Grumpy old men" or some such? I quite liked that although it was a bit cynical. However, his earlier work (I recall "Take a Girl like you") left me a bit cold.

    Quite agree abotu Martin the son. He famously spent thousands of pounds on getting cosmetic work done on his teeth. Not sure why I remember that. I read two of his books and found them so clever-clever that I stopped. A kind of snidy, nasty, superior kind of writer, I always thought. At leats his dad was funny. I imagine there is zero chance of him reading this, would not like to hurt his feelings.

  7. I believe Charles Dance recently directed a nice little film, "Ladies in Lavender," with the two Dames, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. "The Jewel in the Crown" was telecast in the United States probably not long after it was shown in Britain. I had read the novels a few years before and I agree that Dance was a standout and the adaptation was fairly faithful. (Brits are better and more honest at that than Americans; the motto among screenwriters here, I understand, is, "What does the screenwriter owe to the novel? Three things: Nothing, nothing, and nothing.") The elder Amis is one of those writers I went through like a hot knife through butter. Once I read "Lucky Jim" I then went out and read everything of his up to that point (the early 1970s). I especially liked "I Like It Here." His cynicism is the very thing that got me, though I prefer to think of it as iconoclasm. I seem to remember that he once indignantly said in regard to his son's books something like, "The little sod says you have to read them twice!" in order to understand them. Dad wasn't having any of that, and quite right, too.