Bleak House, BBC1

by | Oct 27, 2005 | All, Reviews

What to say if you liked it

A sumptuous, addictive adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel by Andrew Davies in which the tingling drama is enhanced through the rapidity of the broadcasts.

What to say if you didn’t like it

Like a useless trainee executioner incessantly slamming his axe, forged from the fires of interminable English lessons, on the back of your neck with little hope of a merciful decapitation.

What was good about it?

• Each of the teeming cast of characters were carefully, but economically, sketched. In many instances their homes matched their personalities, such as the Dedlocks who lived in senseless opulence but Mrs Dedlock is despondent about the state of her life while he much older husband remains steadfastly ignorant of his wife’s unhappiness. And the types echo through the ages, as the contemporary equivalents to the Dedlocks would be any couple who have bought a speedboat – an epitome of modern indulgence.

• The acting was fantastic, but given that the cast included Ian Richardson, Timothy West, Pauline Collins, Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Denis Lawson and Phil Davis this was no real surprise. But they were matched by newcomers Anna Maxwell Martin, Carey Mulligan and Patrick Kennedy. And Johnny Vegas did a good turn of a yesteryear couch potato – and we especially loved Burn Gorman superseedy portrayal of Guppy.

• The scenery was the gloomiest this side of Deadwood. The streets were coated in dark mud, the houses were “adorned” with every shade of grey and even the fungi on the walls were drained of colour, the inhabitants dressed in dark blues and blacks and quite often the only light in the nocturnally-dark homes was the pinprick of candles.

• The contrast to this ambience of murkiness was Bleak House itself, where the wooden cabinets were almost cherry red, especially when reflecting the glow of the roaring fire.

• The troubled opium-addict Mr Nemo died at the end of episode one, which was a shame as he had the most psychological depth of all the characters on view. And lovely handwriting.

• Nathaniel Parker’s Mr Skimpole, a florid gadabout who unchivalrously pressured Esther into giving him her life savings so he could pay his debt and avoid being sent to prison.

• The nascent relationship between Mr Jarndyce (Lawson) and Esther (Maxwell Martin), as his affection for her is already clear, but she is circumspect of his kindness.

What was bad about it?

• The opening scene – why did it have to be pouring with rain and thundering? Such tired imagery is now only effective in Scooby Doo (and that’s only if the ruinous Scrappy Doo is absent). And why do horses have to neigh so loudly, it’s almost as if they know they’re going to be on TV and they’re saying “Hello, mum”.

• No matter how contemporary the language and dramatic devices are, it’s still Dickens. And Dickens, for many people, is mentally wading through a thick swamp of indecipherable words.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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