dorritt3_1011781cIt’s a few weeks since the BBC’s Little Dorrit started, and I’ve been meaning to post something about it, but I haven’t because, like many other viewers, it seems, I don’t yet know quite what I make of it. The series seems to have provided newspaper critics with the opportunity to admit, en masse, that they haven’t actually read Little Dorrit, which is, after all, one of Dickens’ lesser-known works. Well, I haven’t read it either; and at the moment I’m rather wishing I had, because I’m both drawn into it, and completely confused by what’s going on. For example, in episode 5 I was sure the inexplicable Frenchman had killed Flintwinch, who appeared, as lugubrious as ever, in episode 6. I must have missed something there.

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 familidorritt1_1011779car, 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 n383do 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.


  1. It is understandable your confusion about seen Flintwinch again when he was supposedly “killed” in a previous episode. The explanation is that Flintwinch had a twin brother.

    I agree with you about your comment if: “the BBC has made enough of the nature of imprisonment”. Having read the book, I believe they have not… but with the turn that the series should be taken now, I believe and hope the main theme of imprisonment will be clearly stated.

  2. Thank you for your comment – that’s very helpful! I had been seriously doubting my own eyes with Flintwinch!
    I hope you’re right, about the nature of imprisonment – I’m looking forward to seeing how the series continues. And I have just got the book out of the library, which should help me out a bit!

  3. The book is extremely long; about 1000 pages but it worth it. Sometimes is a little tedious but when I finished reading, I was glad I did not skip pages.

  4. i have just read the blog. now that you have read the book, don’t you just love it. happy endings are allright with me. did you think that the guy who played pnacks in the bbc production looked at all like the snorting gent cd discribed in the book? did you notice dickens again got his initials into the story. the first letter of clennans and the first letter of dorrit – cd

  5. Thanks for your comment. Yes, I did enjoy it – I’m not always pleased with happy endings but this seemed worthwhile! Perhaps Panks in the BBC production wasn’t really how Dickens described him, but I thought he was good – somehow convincing. I didn’t notice – until you mention it – about Dickens’ initials – I take it this is something he made a habit of then? I’m trying to recall other examples now!

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