But on the whole, I think the BBC does Dickens well. I enjoyed Bleak House in 2006 (though in that instance I know the novel well), and as a Dickens amateur, it seems to me that his characterisation, the foibles and oddities which make his characters memorable and unusual, yet strangely familiar, translates well to television. Tom Courtenay, as an inmate of a debtors’ prison who maintains a semblance of pride, has been justly acclaimed for his performance – the right mixture of arrogance and touching sentiment. Matthew Macfadyen as Arthur Clennam has a suitable gravitas whilst no doubt drawing in the female viewers, and young actress Claire Foy is convincing, maidenly and dignified as Amy Dorrit. The rest of the characters are grotesques. Such is the world of Dickens. Mr Pancks, Flora Finching, Maggy, Rigaud, even Mrs Clennam – their exaggerated characteristics – either physical, mental or both – make them ideal characters for TV, developed from Dickens’ excellent sense of the theatrical.
I do wonder if the BBC has made enough of the nature of imprisonment, literal and metaphorical, which seems to be central to the novel, but of course the weight of debt and its related concerns, such as responsibility, respectability and the old-fashioned notion of duty, which afflict the Dorrits is at least highly topical. This is, of course, “Dickens-lite” – but what else could it be? Having said that, for an Andrew Davies production, it’s refreshingly light on sex. It’s entertaining, it’s a good story, and most importantly I hope it will direct people towards the real thing. Reliable and informative discussion of the novel can be found on the Victorian Web, here.