Dickensian: Too great an expectation?

I can’t help but imagine what it must have been like to have sat in on the meeting where it was decided to throw almost all of Charles Dickens’ characters together and create an EastEnders whodunit style soap opera. This is exactly what has preoccupied BBC One for the past few months, with scriptwriter Tony Jordan (one of the minds behind a certain London based serial that may or may not have been previously mentioned) laden with the task of bringing iconic Dickens characters and storylines to a modern audience.

The first episode aired on Boxing Day, filled with great promise and lashings of Christmas un-cheer. The fog-filled streets of Victorian London were the perfect authentic home for the prequel to some of Dickens’ best work, with a star studded cast to provide some very thoughtful and witty line one liners. Creating such a script is an endeavour that shouldn’t be overlooked, as Jordan’s scope of the Dickensian world with its intricate details is a marvel in itself, and that’s before applauding the impressive character development of not only the major characters, but especially those in more minor roles. Pauline Collins is impressive as Mrs Gamp, harbouring some of the more humorous scenarios, constantly hunting for her next beverage – preferably one with with a tipple of gin.

So far, so good. But with each week introducing a variety of new characters from all ends of the Dickens book shelf, it’s easy to get mixed up in who’s who instead of focusing on their part in the programme. Characters often drop off the scene to make way for the new, and without the BBC supplying a ‘handy cheats guide’ of names and faces it would have been easy to be completely lost into confusion. Because of this, plots often became undetected and uninteresting. By the time we discovered who the the real killer of Jacob Marley was in episode seventeen, it had lost its suspense.

With each instalment supplied twice a week in two measly half hour doses, I couldn’t have been the only one left thinking please, sir, can we have some more? The twenty chapters could have easily been condensed into ten weekly episodes; I doubt many of the original viewers from December stayed around to watch the greatly anticipated wedding (or abandoned wedding) this far into February.

We were left hanging on until the final throws of the last episode to witness the jilted bride who would soon become the wealthy witch of Satis House. Left screaming and sobbing in her wedding dress, you can almost see the cobwebs form around her at the extravagant dinner table. It’s hard to imagine that the vivacious Amelia will become the emotionless Miss Havisham, but inescapably she will; the series is set not to change the fate of the characters, but to see how they got there. And perhaps that’s the source of enjoyment, to imagine the former lives of the names we know and love so well.

As the Artful Dodger leads away a very familiar and unassuming orphan, expertly cast as the adorable Leonardo Dickens, we already see the possibility of a sequel, something which is yet to be confirmed or denied by the BBC. Although the outcome of the characters is inevitable within the pages of Dickens, the finale is just the beginning to a new world of literary possibility.


Emma Bowden


Image courtesy of the BBC. 

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