Length: 8 episodes (Australian version) or 6 episodes
Charles Dickens’ complex tale of young love, murder, and the quest for a mystery-man’s identity unfolds in a thrilling six-part adaptation by screenwriter Andrew Davies. Bleak House features some of the most famous plot twists in literary history, including a case of human spontaneous combustion and an infamous inheritance dispute that is tied up for generations in the dysfunctional English courts.
This is an absolutely fantastic book adaptation, as is expected of BBC productions nowadays. The series is quite faithful to the book with only small deviations that help keep the plot tight and action packed. Not something I can say about the book itself – I’d trim 200-300 pages easily, but since Dickens was paid by the words he wrote, he swelled his works sometimes quite needlessly.
This superb adaptation is what kept me going when I had to read the book for my studies. I was despairing at one point when he decided to describe every object and item of clothing in one house and the story got stuck with minor characters that drove me absolutely crazy. I wanted to know what happened with Lady Deadlock! But there’s nothing of this here – the series takes the very best of the novel and characters to produce an amazing mystery/thriller series.
The cast is superb and the acting on spot. You’ll find many familiar faces from other period dramas. Gilian Anderson is an outstanding Lady Deadlock while Anna Maxwell Martin is a sweet Esther Summers (as saintly a character as you can imagine). Carey Mulligan portrays a gentile Ada. The male cast is just as superb and I have an eternal soft spot for Guppy portrayed by Burn Gorman. Charles Dance makes for a perfectly shady Mr. Tulkinghorn. He’s just superb as a villain.
The story is set in a sombre mood, with many dark elements and muted colour palette. Dickens tackles the problems in his society head on once again, thereby weaving a fascinating story of secrets, betrayals, and hopes. The names of the characters are as colourful as always and therefore very informative as to certain characteristics of their owners. I like that very much although I’d gladly shorten the list of characters even further than the drama did. Nonetheless, this is one of the more fascinating Dickens novels.
There are a few romances going on at the same time, with varying outcomes. I will not go into details here because that would spoil the series and book for you, but be sure the stakes are as high as ever. The past and the present intertwine together in twists and turns. It is a fascinating look into Victorian England.