Why I am Thankful for Period Piece Adaptations, Example Two: Bleak House (2005)


Last week we discussed Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South and I hope you remember me mentioning how she was friends with the maestro of industrial novels - Mr. Charles Dickens. Which led me to the next adaptation in this series: Bleak House (2005).

Yes, the story is a bit Bleak but the house is quite pleasant. Think of the "Iceland is nice and Greenland is full of ice" idea. In BLEAK house the house is charming, bright, and full of life whereas the story itself is filled with heartbreak, disease, death, secrets, lies, want, class division,  etc. I know what you are thinking : "Geeze,  Emily! I thought we were suppose to be swooning?" I respond: swooning can take place in the darkest of times, as seen in countless books. 

BUT FIRST - the background and synopsis of Bleak House (with attempts to avoid spoilers):

Charles Dickens released Bleak House from March 1852 to September 1853 in twenty monthly installments (each containing 32 pages of text and two illustrations by Phiz). Each issue cost one shilling, except for the final, which was a double-issue and cost two shillings.

The story revolves around a long-running court case: Jarndyce v Jarndyce (pronounce JARN- DICE not JARN-DIS - a common misconception), where a testator died having making several wills, thus tying up the courts for years to determine the rightful heir. The case has been known to ruin the lives that set their financial hopes upon it. In addition to Jarndyce v Jarndyce, there are other cases in the chancery that circle about and demonstrate the failures of the England's Court of Chancery and reinforce the need to reform.

Then there are the characters that take the theme to another level:

Lady Deadlock, a woman of refinement and  social status who has both a stake in the case Jarndyce v Jarndyce and has a dark secret that unfolds when she sees a particular handwriting. Her husband, Sir Leicester Deadlock, who is in an epic, yet unnecessary conflict, with his neighbor Lawrence Boythorn. Their lawyer, Mr. Tulkinghorn, is one of the villains of the piece, a scheming, manipulative, cruel man.

John Jarndyce--not the Jarndyce of the case, but a relative and, though he does not care, another person with potential to be heir to the estate--takes on two wards of the case: Ada Clare and Richard Carstone - the later finds himself consumed by the case despite his guardian’s advice to set his future on a career instead of the case (that’s Harold Skimpole, a friend of Jarndyce, and a man who refuses to accept responsibility for anything - the most selfish of creatures). John Jarndyce employes the heroine of the story, Esther Summerson, an orphan raised without knowing the identity of her parents, to be the companion to Ms. Ada Clare (otherwise the whole situation would be scandalous and not proper as Ada Clare is a beautiful, young girl). Esther does not seek to know more about her family, but the truth is determined to find her. Through all of that, she finds a slew of potential husbands herself, including the dashing Dr. Woodcourt and Mr. Guppy, the ridiculous Kenge and Carboysh law clerk.

Other characters (but still not all of them) include: Nemo, the mysterious, law writer, Inspector Bucket - a detective called in to undertake several investigations throughout the novel, Krook, a rag and bottle merchant, who happens to have a curious collection of letters though he is known to be illiterate, Smallweed – a moneylender, and not well liked, Mr. George, a former soldier with dealings with a handful of characters in the story, Miss Flite, a bit of an eccentric who collects birds to be released on the day of judgement - her family was ruined by a case in the Chancery--an elderly eccentric obsessed with Chancery. Other characters are Jo, a homeless boy, who becomes a target due to his friendship with Nemo, Mr. Snagsby, who employed Nemo, and finds himself entangled with Tulkinghorn's and Bucket and doing their bidding. Wow… and that’s not everybody, but I think it gives you a sense of the characters and how their interactions drive the story.


Time for six visual reasons to entice you to watch this particular adaption (available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus)

 

1. Anna Maxwell Martin (a name to learn, embrace, and admire) - is perfect even with marks on her face

 

2. Gillian Anderson, aka Dana Scully, gets to be a melancholy lady

 

3. Geekdom Abounds (in addition to Dana Scully): Wedge Antilles, Tyres, Owen Harper, Sally Sparrow, Captain Hatch / Sherlock Taxi Drive, Tywin Lannister

 

4. Gorgeous Production Design, Costumes, and Cinematography - just look at the trailer

 

 5. Adapted by Andrew Davies - Maestro of Period Piece Adaptations. Here is a sample, I repeat a sample, of his resume

6. It is bloody, Charles Dickens. Respect.