Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"She's a Bleak .... Hooooouse. She's mighty mighty ..."

The new BBC production of Bleak House -- at least for me, and take of it what you will -- is excellent. It's worth noting that they're using a filthily addictive half-hour drama format. Is it a series? Is it a mini-series? They don't care -- it's just the best way to tell this particular story. Meanwhile, that discussion would consume three hours of the pitch meeting in an American room and eventually kill the thing.

That half-hour choice really conveys the pacing and joyful pulp feel of Dickens well done. The directing's crisp, the polar opposite of strained costume-period habits. All this on top of an Andrew Davies adaptation script. Davies did House of Cards. The box set for that trilogy is kicking about; the third one drags, but the first one -- oh my. Thank you, Davies, for several of the pleasantly queasiest moments I've ever seen scripted.

And look at those faces, by the way. Can you imagine promoting a show in the US while burdened with, horrors, nothing more than just ... good actors? Denis Lawson as John Jarndyce is really the stand-out. Bonus: Lawson's geek cred is ... beyond impeccable. Just go take a look.


Lee said...

You're right, it is excellent, and it's been a big hit for the Beeb.

We've got four episodes left to go, and given the way the story develops, the decision to adapt it as a half-hour quasi-soap was genius.

Plus, Scully AND Wedge rocking the house!

Julie Goes To Hollywood said...

John, nothing would make me happier than watching Bleak House, or anything else. But I just moved and the cable guy told me he didn't really feel like hooking it up. Too many leaves and branches, said he. Life feels very odd without TV, like, you know, a house that's bleak.

James Moran said...

Ahhhh, House of Cards is superb. Utterly depraved, and one of the best central performances I've ever seen.

"I'm going to call you... 'daddy'..."

1031 said...

I think it's cool how, other than being Wedge, Lawson is also Ewan McGregor's uncle.

Rogers said...

"I'm going to call you... 'daddy'..."

So. Deliciously. WRONG.

Anonymous said...

So, when do we get to see this in 'Merrica?

I have terribly mixed feelings about _Bleak House_ the book.

On one hand, some terribly, terribly funny and insightful stuff. A first-hand account of the Old Ways cracking to bits. (Remember the scene where the industrialist visits the Leicester house and asks if his son can marry one of their servants, and the Lord's disgust at the thought of her being educated?)

On the other hand, padding in the extreme. An impossibly nice heroine who just adores her upper-class mistress. Convenient dramatic illnesses. Skimpole wearing out his welcome as a character . . . I would really have just imagined how screwed up his household was.

Well, I'm going to watch the series when I can. There's enough good stuff to make it worthwhile.

Redjack said...

Anything that employs the underrated and immensely gifted Gillian Anderson is aces in my book.

But, for God's sake, if anyone here knows her, tell her to EAT!

I'm so sick of the wafer thin actor-gal it makes me want to spit. It worries me. Really.

(Unless you're just naturally that way, of course. Then, we're cool, essa. We're cool.)

What moron dreamt up that archetype? Dachau chic. Lovely. Give me his address so me and my associates can... drop by for a chat.

John said...

Have you seen ? It's a beautifully gentle film, also with Denis Lawson in, and well worth a watch if you like 'fish out of water' comedies.

John said...

Damn - that'll teach me to rush my html.

Anyway - I was suggesting Local Hero as a film worth watching.

Danny Stack said...

Poor Joe. My heart aches. "I aint dun nuffink sir!"

Salome said...

That's not "just... good actors". That's Charles Dance skulking all over 19th Century London. I do believe they split it into the half hour format along the lines that Dickens wrote it as a newspaper serial, hence the fabulous love-it-hate-it-need-it cliffhangers. That means jamming a shedload of plot into each half hour, which totally works for me.

I don't know if US/CAN cable does a thing called BBC Series Choice or if it's just my cable here in UK, but it provides the whole series for me, free, on demand, whenever I want. No Tivo, just 'here's the stuff we're really proud of, watch it whenever you want'. Gives me a warm glowy public service kind of feeling.

Bob said...

I have to squirm out of my lurkhole for a moment to address one point raised by Anonymous.

"Bleak House" is certainly not Charles Dickens' most perfect book--in a book that large, there's bound to be a few missteps, padding, etc.--but when you cite the "impossibly nice heroine who just adores her upper-class mistress" as a weakness in the book...well, consider this.

Have you noticed that "Bleak House" has an alternating narration? We get the third-person limited narrator, with our impossibly nice heroine as its POV/anchor. Then we get the third-person bilious narrator, spewing contempt and disgust at the pukey green fog surrounding London. The way I read the book--and admittedly it's been a while, and admittedly it isn't an 100% airtight theory--both narrations are part of our impossibly nice heroine's consciousness. The rage expressed by the latter narration, the disgust with the inequity and inefficiency and deceit, is what the heroine is repressing in her scenes.

(As I recall, her chapters tend to end with her leaving the room or going to sleep...also, remember that doll she buries when she is a little girl? Dude, that doll is her! And it's pissed off! And it's the narrator of the venomous parts of "Bleak House"!)

Looked at this way, our heroine--can't remember her name--isn't impossibly nice...she's totally, crazily schizo! And the book is also totally crazily schizo! "Bleak House" is nucking futs!

And that's why me loves it so damn much.

Sizemore said...

It says a lot for my viewing habits that I have to wait for John to bring this kind of thing to my attention.

But wait until you see A Cock & Bull Srory - Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Gillian Anderson. Quite possibly the funniest thing that any of them have ever done. And that includes the X Files where Scully ate the bug.

Rogers said...

I keep hearing about Cock & Bull -- where the hell do I get it? Is it out in theaters yet, on DVD or must I go to the Darknet?

Sizemore said...

Still playing the festival circuit, but should be coming to a big screen near you in the New Year - albeit on limited release I bet.

Anonymous said...

"both narrations are part of our impossibly nice heroine's consciousness"

A very interesting possibility!

My take on that is that Dickens was putting in "something for everyone." There was upper class scandal stuff, rough and ready detective stuff, a satire on the law, etc. Esther's story was for the ladies of the time, but it just grated on me. He adoration of Ada and the others in Bleak house was unsettling.


Gag Halfrunt said...

Is it a series? Is it a mini-series?

The thought occurs to me that it might be a kind of telenovela, since the format of two half-hours each week is like a soap but it has a definite beginning, middle and end.

Jacob Sager Weinstein said...

Guess I'm in the minority here. I tried to watch the first episode of Bleak House, and turned it off in halfway through.

The thing is, Dickens isn't just a great dramatic writer, or just a great writer of ornate plots. He's a great comic writer, too. His books are dripping with every kind of humor--wit, irony, slapstick, and even the occasional bit of farce. True, the first-person chapters of Bleak House are a little too sickly sweet to be funny, but the third-person ones have some of the sharpest satire Dickens ever did.

But the BBC series is just utterly humorless. Every moment just drips with dim lighting and ominous music and heavy portent. All that Very Serious Important Drama completely sucked the life out of the story.

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