The Old Curiosity Shop, ITV1
Did we like it?
While not as good as the recent adaptation of Oliver Twist, this Dickens classic was given a glistening cast and lavish scenery and was only marred by the directionless nature of Mr Quilp’s pursuit of the fleeing grandfather and Nell.
What was good about it?
• Toby Jones as the malevolent, menacing Daniel Quilp. He mercilessly extorts money from Nell and her grandfather before pursuing them both across England to acquire the pound of flesh he believes he is owed. Jones made him so intimidating that the word “nincompoop” sounded like the most wounding insult known to mankind.
• And when his wife shows the merest intimation of insubordination to his grim tyranny he threatens “I’ll bite you!”; which is a threat that carries as much potency in the victim imagining where they will be bitten as the assault itself.
• Derek Jacobi as Nell’s doddering grandfather who, when in the vicinity of playing cards, conducted a transformation as complete as when Jacobi morphed from the genial Professor Yana to the Master in Doctor Who. He would steal into Nell’s bedroom at night to purloin the money she had sewn into the hem of her skirt, and then coerce her to beg in the pouring rain after he had frittered away the last of their money by furiously beseeching her, “If you loved me you’d find us money!”
• Also impressive were Sophie Vavasseur as the doomed Nell and George McKay as the defiant Kit Nubbles. As was Geoff Breton as the dandyish Dick Swiveller, the character who went from casual accomplice of the avaricious Brass siblings and Mr Quilp to noble defender of truth and justice when he helped uncover their nefarious misdeeds.
• After his evil plot was uncovered, Quilp tried to escape by creeping along the frozen riverbank to his boat. But the ice gave way under his weight and he slipped to a watery doom. However, the most touching part of this scene was the way his abused wife Betsey (Anna Madeley) first warned him of the approaching mob and then collapsed with grief upon his demise, as she was still optimistic “there is love in you somewhere, I know there is!”
What was bad about it?
• The staccato nature of Quilp’s hunt for Nell and her grandfather. He would set off to where he thought they had fled, only to return to London a few days later. He would then head off again after a few days giving his quarry more chance to lose themselves in the English countryside. His apparently resolute quest to track down the pair didn’t really tally with his apathetic approach to their flight.
• While Nell and her grandfather’s encounters with Punch and Judy men (Martin Freeman and Steve Pemberton) and the Victorian equivalent of Madame Tussaud (Zoë Wanamaker) were entertaining, they had the air of acting as sideshow distractions as all that happened during that time was for Nell’s grandfather to inevitably succumb to the temptation of the gambling table.
• We never really got to drink in the delights of the Old Curiosity Shop, as Nell and her grandfather took flight almost before the first ad break, but this is one of the pitfalls of trimming down a novel to an hour-and-a-half.