Friday, February 3, 2012

BBC Little Dorrit (1988)

At the Marshalsea Prison
One of my favorite period dramas is Little Dorrit (2009) which I recently reviewed. Since I enjoy the story of Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit, I was interested in watching this older BBC adaptation. The series isn't on DVD but was available for viewing on Netflix so I took advantage of my one month free trial to enjoy Little Dorrit (1988).

Bob Chivery & Little Amy Dorrit
Script: Because I haven't read the book I'm not aware of too many changes (if any) that were made. There were a few characters that were either kept from the book or taken out altogether. For instance all the members of the Chivery Family are kept in but other characters like Tattycorum, Mrs. Meagles and Mrs. Wade are cut out. Also the whole Baldau plot is skipped over and the ending full of secrets is tacked on at the end.
Another big change is that the story is divided into two parts of some three hours each - Part One showing Arthur Clennam's point of view and Part Two showing the story through Amy Dorrit's eyes. The two parts do have a few similar scenes and also a few scenes that don't make much sense unless you watch both parts.

Derek Jacobi as Arthur Clennam

Part One - Nobody's Fault: This part takes it's name from a working title Charles Dickens used for Little Dorrit before renaming it. It starts with Arthur Clennam coming home from China after his father dies. We don't meet Amy Dorrit until Arthur meets her and follows her home one day. Much of the focus is on Arthur's regard for Minnie "Pet" Meagles and his business ventures with Mr. Doyce. It ends a bit abruptly because it doesn't show the Dorrit's adventures abroad and instead shows what Arthur was doing during this time. But you do connect with Arthur Clennam and like him the better in Part Two.

Sarah Pickering as Amy Dorrit

Part Two - Little Dorrit's Story: This part shows the story through the eyes of Amy Dorrit. It actually begins at her birth and shows scenes from her childhood in the Marshalsea Prison. I really enjoyed these scenes as they help the viewer to understand how hardworking Amy is and how invaluable she is to everyone around her. We don't meet Arthur Clennam until Amy does and find out little of his life besides where it intertwines with her's. Because of this if you don't watch both parts it's difficult to understand why Amy loves Arthur so much.
This part shows the Dorrit's adventures abroad and has the complete ending which shows what happens to all the characters.  

Inside the Meagles' House
Scenes: Most scenes are light and bright but have an older feel to them. There are some lovely grand indoor architecture for the richer people and many of the poorer folks's indoor rooms interested me because of their cramped living space. Although some of the rooms and outdoor scene looked more like sound-stages there were a number of scene shot on location as well. One thing they do very well are crowded street scenes and there's several of them!

Fanny Dorrit & Amy Dorrit
Costumes: There are many elegant dresses and lovely coats and cravats among the richer folk. Minnie "Pet" Meagles and Fanny Dorrit have some lovely mid-Victorian style dresses with pretty delicate fabrics. Through most of the movie Amy wears loral & stripe shawl, white cap and straw bonnet over and a plain blue dress with patches at the elbows. Overall the characters mostly have neat and tidy clothing except for Edward "Tip" Dorrit and a few others in the Marshalsea Prison who look like they've "come down" in the world. 


Actors In Their Roles: There are a few recognizable actors but overall I didn't recognize many of the actors. I read on the Wikipedia page that there were over 300 actors in this production!
  • Derek Jacobi as Arthur Clennam - It took me a while to get used to him in the role, I kept hearing Matthew Macfadyen's voice echoing his words especially when he was speaking to his mother. Overall he was very kindly in the role but looked to old to be Arthur to me.
  • Sarah Pickering as Amy Dorrit - I love Claire Foy as Amy Dorrit from the 2009 adaptation so I was prepared not to like Sarah Pickering in this role at all. But I found myself loving Ms. Pickering in the role! She's so sweet and mouse-like. She did look very young compared to Derek Jacobi and did sometimes speak rather low.  
  • Alec Guinness as Mr. William Dorrit - I didn't mind him in the role too much, he grew on me. He spoke a little too regally at times for my taste but it did add to his air as "the father of the Marshalsea" and show why Tip and Fanny see themselves as so much above other people. 
  • Miriam Margolyes as Flora Finching - Oh my! What can I say about Flora? She always says the most awkward things and in this adaptation she says them faster and more silly than I thought possible. Also it was hard to get a screencap of her because she was in constant movement! 
  • Joan Greenwood as Mrs. Clennam - To me she was a bit more religious than in the 2009 version but she seemed a bit weak and guided too much by Flintwitch in this one.
  • Roshan Seth as Mr. Panks - It was hard to decide whether to like Mr. Panks or not but he was quite comical so he made me laugh quite a lot! He has funny hair and a furry looking top hat too!
  • The Chivery Family - There were more Chiverys than I first suspected! There was old Bob Chivery who was young Amy's kindly old godfather and dies. Then there's Mr. Chivery the turnkey and Mrs. Chivery runs a tobacco shop. I didn't like Young John Chivery as well in this film which is too bad because he's one of my favorite characters! In this adaptation Young John is more youthful and rather shy and unsure of himself. Amy also doesn't let him propose so we don't see how much he truly loves her.

My Recommendations: Because this miniseries is very long and rather out of date I recommend it to only the stoutest of hearts and the most die-hard of Charles Dickens fans. It does have some lovely tidbits about the characters (especially about Amy Dorrit) which are interesting if you want to get to know the characters more (and are not inclined to read the book). There is no inappropriate language or themes so this is completely safe for family viewing but young people may become easily bored with the length and slowness of the film. Overall I liked this film but if I was to watch it again I'd probably only watch Part Two because I liked Amy's story best! 

Have you seen Little Dorrit (1988)
What do you think of the looks of the main characters?


Miss Elizabeth Bennet said...

I also watched it on Netflix, but a while ago. I didn't like it very much. I read some of the book (things got busy and I got away from reading it), but I did notice that there were quite a few things that were changed from the book. I think the 2008 miniseries was closer to the book (at least from what I've read of it). But this adaptation did a really good job with making some characters look like the characters described in the book, though.

And Yes! Derek Jacobi was too old as Arthur!

Christine said...

It sounds like the Chivery family was portrayed more accurately in the movie you just watched; I could not stand John Chivery in the novel. I could understand why Amy could not marry him.

The 2008 version was fairly close to the book, but I was extremely annoyed by how Andrew Davies changed the last hour and a half; he totally ruined the movie for me; Dickens' ending was way better! The cast could not have been more perfect though, except for Tattycoram, Pet, and Henry Gowan, they were not quite right, but Matthew Macfadyen WAS Arthur Clennam. No one could have been better.

Laura Menchaca said...

I wanted to watch the 1988 version after seeing the 2008 version because I so enjoyed it that I wanted to watch the prior version to compare it. Unfortunately I couldn't find the movie anywhere. Based on the trailers I to believe that Arthur was way too old for little Dorrit and that alone might be too much of a distraction for me to actually enjoy the story.

Laura Menchaca said...

I too wanted to watch the 1988 version of little Dorrit after watching the newer version which I really loved. I wanted to compare both movies but could not find the older movie anywhere. I did watch trailers on YouTube though and I have to agree that the actor portraying Arthur looked entirely too old 4 little Dorrit and that alone might be too much of a distraction for me to ever really enjoy the 1988 version.

postscript67 said...

This version was not made by the BBC. It was produced by an independent company for theatrical release. I saw it in the cinema in 1988. Now, 30 years later, I have at last read the book and am thinking of getting the dvd of the film. From what I remember it was quite faithful to the book. And incidentally, Derek Jacobi is not really too old for Clennam, he is meant to be a lot older than Amy Dorrit.

Anonymous said...

I read the book back in college, and it's one of the few Dickens novels I actually like. I've seen some of the 2008 version, and have seen the 1988 several times. Though the actors in the 2008 version are all excellent and the movie is nicely done, I don't believe it's as accurate. Arthur is supposed to be older, and look much older than Little Dorrit. Though audiences would rather see prettier faces like Macfayden's and Foy's, the characters just aren't like that in the novel. They are plain-looking, and Little Dorrit is supposed to be mousy and quiet. I thought Claire Foy was too spunky (not the best word choice?) as the character, but Matthew Macfayden did do a great Clennam. However, NO ONE can hold a candle to Derek Jacobi. He is nothing if not perfection in every movie/tv series/play he's ever done. And the '88 version is actually available on Amazon streaming (though in two parts, and you have to rent it).

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