For numerous years, the inhabitants of a town in England have tried to solve the infamous civil court case known as Jarndyce and Jarndyce; it’s a big deal because it involves an inheritance of a large sum of money. John Jarndyce (Denis Lawson) is a wealthy man who contributes to many charities and is the distant cousins of Ada Clare (Carey Mulligan) and Richard Carstone (Patrick Kennedy), two young orphans who are involved with the famous case. Jarndyce adopts them and they go to live with him in his house, Bleak House. Additionally, he takes in a lonely girl called Esther Summerson (Anna Maxwell Martin) to be Ada’s companion and governess.
Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson) is a lady from a rich and powerful family. She is also involved in the civil court case. The Dedlock’s lawyer is Mr. Tulkinghorn (Charles Dance). While examining his papers, she grows suspicious at some handwriting she recognises. Adapted from novel by Charles Dickens, Bleak House is a social experiment narrating a constantly twisting and turning plot. It forces us to make connections between aristocracy and the working classes, the rich and the poor, the beautiful and the ugly, the powerful and the powerless. This is a roar of protest against an uncaring society looking only to profit from those they deem inferior to themselves.
Bleak House is a mystery story of law and order and that goes beyond the courtroom. Will Ada and Richard find fortune? Will the sweaty and slimy snake Smallweed (Phil Davis) get his comeuppance? Will Guppy (Burn Gorman) make a name for himself? Will Esther find herself in the truth of her mother? This is a murder story as well, which comes to a thrilling climax lead by one of fiction’s greatest detectives, Inspector Bucket (Alun Armstrong). This is a fable about redemption, in which the case of Jarndyce And Jarndyce and Bleak House is much changed by the strong arms of the unpredictable notions of love, friendship and the shaky temperament of the human beast.
The word “massive” doesn’t do this British miniseries justice. For a UK period drama, this is pretty damn huge. Yes, size matters; and it stands at fifteen episodes, eight hours of television, eighty-five characters, with forty of them having dialogue. Six years before HBO’s Game of Thrones, there was Bleak House in 2005. Nobody can accuse this series of being unoriginal or unambitious, and written by Andrew Davies – one of the most greatest television writers of the last thirty years with House of Cards, Pride and Prejudice and Tipping the Velvet on his writing CV, with the BBC’s new adaptation of Les Misérables to follow suit, this should be compulsory viewing.
From Carey Mulligan (Mudbound) to Charles Dance (Games of Thrones) to Phil Davis (Poldark) to Gillian Anderson (American Gods), there is not one cast member out of place. “Shake me up, Judy” says Smallweed in a snarling voice. His awfulness is unparalleled. Whilst J. K. Rowling made Umbridge, Dickens made Smallweed. He really is a shit and you grow to hate him more and more every time he breathes. The ruthless lawyer Mr. Tulkinghorn too, is a nasty piece of work; both characters are well-acted to the point where you believe that the men playing them have become them. Charles Dance is Tulkinghorn and Phil Davis is Mr Smallweed, evil reincarnate. Urgh!!
This breathtaking miniseries is put together in the same way Dickens did his story in popular press, in short bursts. Each episode is thirty minutes ending with a cliffhanger. The novel itself is a chunky piece of work and I have yet to read it myself. I am told it’s a masterpiece and I will get there soon. Nonetheless, I’m also told that the Andrew Davis and co with the BBC did a good job adapting the source material. From the get-go of this series, the dappled colours on cobbled streets show the, well, bleakness of our story. Yet, there are times of hope amongst the sheer realities of Victorian Britain, like in many Dickens stories – from Oliver Twist to Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.
From the cast to the crew to the colour pallet, cinematography and careful costume design, I cannot find anything wrong with this series. This is a modern-take on the period genre and it’s well-done indeed. It’s called Bleak House but the only bleak aspect is that its runtime wasn’t infinite.