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Dickensian (TV series 2015): John C Adams Reviews

Show name: Dickensian

Release date: 2015

Genre: Period drama

Starring: Stephen Rea, Tuppence Middleton, Sophie Rundle

Studio: BBC1

Length: 30 minutes per episode

Rating: 5/5

Charles Dickens created a vibrant fictional universe spread across many stories.

We are used to seeing references to characters within his books showing just how connected his fictional world was.

However, Dickensian was unusual. This TV drama in 20 episodes brought together different characters in a small area of London and linked their lives in ways that we hadn’t seen before.

There are three main plot strands, with countless other much-loved characters appearing to support these and help create a sense of Dickensian atmosphere.

The first is the murder in Jacob Marley (Peter Firth). We know that his ghost comes back to haunt Scrooge (Ned Dennehy), but what of his death?

Marley is murdered down by the Thames late on Christmas Eve. He’s spent the evening collecting debts.

Marley has also been in the company of a sex worker Nancy (Bethany Muir), whose bodyguard is Bill Sykes (Mark Stanley) and whose pimp is Fagin (Anton Lesser).

This brings in a range of characters from Oliver Twist, placing them in proximity to those from A Christmas Carol.

Inspector Bucket of ‘the detective’ (Stephen Rea) comes in to investigate. His methods include seeking advice from Mr Venus (Omid Djalili), whose day job is taxidermy.

This is a great example of Dickensian using an existing character (from Our Mutual Friend) in an unusual and inventive way.

The second plot strand is the early life of Amelia Havisham (Tuppence Middleton), who we are accustomed to seeing as an older woman in Great Expectations.

In Dickensian, the young Miss Havisham has just lost her father. The terms of his will create the rift between her and her half-brother Arthur (Joseph Quinn).

Arthur’s resentment leads Meriwether Compeyson (Tom Weston-Jones) into Amelia’s life. He arranges for his friend to seduce and them abandon her.

We are familiar with the consequences of this from Great Expectations, but it was amazing to see the interactions between the three brought to life onscreen in Dickensian.

In particular, it isn’t usual for us to see much if anything of Arthur, and by the time of Great Expectations Compeyson is long gone. It was a really powerful portrayal of the events decades earlier.

The third major plot strand is the love affair and secret pregnancy of Honoria Barbary (Sophie Rundle).

In Bleak House, Honoria is married to Sir Leicester Dedlock (Richard Cordery). However, she has concealed her earlier pregnancy from him, believing that the child had died. In Dickensian, we see her love affair with Captain Hawdon (Ben Starr) and their hopes of marrying.

Financial problems lead Honoria’s family to pressure her into marrying Sir Leicester. However, she resists and (when she discovers that she is pregnant) intends to marry Captain Hawdon.

We know from Bleak House that Honoria believes her daughter has died, and that she does marry Sir Leicester and conceals her secret in their marriage.

However, seeing the love affair play out and Honoria’s grief over her baby was still incredibly powerful.

There were numerous appearances from much-loved characters such as the characters from Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, Martin Chuzzlewit and other books.

These are too many to mention here, but there were some superb performances from many well-known English actors.

Dickensian was a true ensemble cast.

I was intrigued by the idea of taking people barely mentioned in Dickens’ novels such as Arthur Havisham and bringing them into the centre of the story. I also loved the idea of solving the murder of Jacob Marley.

Dickensian was a very unusual TV show, but it really worked. Even though I knew the outcome of the Great Expectations and Bleak House storylines, my interest in seeing Amelia and Honoria’s lives play out never wavered.

Thank you for reading my review.

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John C Adams Reviews Dickensian

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