Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bleak House

It is 19th century London. In the Court of Chancery a case - Jarndyce and Jarndyce, to be precise - has been dragging on for generations. Foggy and duplicate wills have ensured that a grand fortune remains tied up in court, no matter how much the possible heirs could use it.

Into the midst of this muddle come three young people who will be changed by it forever.

Richard and Ada are wards of the court and possible heirs of Jarndyce. Esther Summerson is a girl of unknown parentage who has been engaged as Ada's companion. All three of them have been invited by old Mr. John Jarndyce, the kindest man ever to live, to come and live with him at Bleak House. They all willingly accept and find in Mr. Jarndyce the best friend and guardian any of them could hope for.

But life never remains as it was, and unwanted suitors, mysterious parentage, nefarious lawyers and deadly illnesses turn everything upside down.

Will they survive the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce alive?

Although I have not read the book, by all accounts this 2005 adaptation produced by the BBC is fantastic. And taking it on its own merit, it is a wonderful miniseries. The acting is fantastic, the locations are perfect, the costuming is wonderful, and the script --- (written by the A&E P&P's Andrew Davies) is brilliant. Like most BBC productions the only faltering point is the camera-work which remains somewhat jarring, though in a way that is perhaps not inconsistent with the feel of Dickens. Though unconventional the cinematography is totally watchable and I liked it better than I do most BBC work.

It is also very appropriate. Apart from a scene of spontaneous combustion (which is a little freaky/gross) and discussion of an illicit affair (but in proper Victorian language) it is something the whole family could watch. Younger children will likely be uninterested by the court case and the depth of human emotion, but the rest of the family should find this a wonderful treat to enjoy together over the upcoming winter months.

Dickens and I have a love/hate relationship. I love his "A Tale of Two Cities" and "A Christmas Carol" but have been annoyed by most of his other stuff that I've read. However several years ago I happened to catch the first episode of "Bleak House" on PBS and was completely engrossed. I always meant to find it again, but it wasn't until now that I actually managed to do so. I'm extremely glad I did as it is marvelous and human and accessible. But when you have such a stunning cast and a script written by Andrew Davies, what else can you expect?

15 comments:

Rose Marchen said...

Have you seen the "Little Dorrit" mini series by BBC? I've heard that the book isn't so good, but I just love the mini series!

Elenatintil said...

I watched the first episode and was less than impressed. Does it get better? Because right now I'm not at all inclined to finish it.

Ann H. said...

*pops in* Little Dorrit is quite good imo. I however was not immediately enchanted by it, it took a little time. But as the story developed I found myself more and more intrigued. =)

I've been wanting to see this version of Bleak House for awhile now!! So after reading your review I am even more interested. Only thing is I have "thing" against Andrew Davies...

Elenatintil said...

Really? What do you have against him?

Ann H. said...

Well, recently I'd become quite the fan of 20th century authors (Chesterton, Waugh, ect...), thus I had been left in amazement by Waugh's Brideshead. After that I decided to do some "homework" on the newer film( Andrew Davies being one of the screenwriters). Well, after going to multiply sources as well as hearing comments from some friends they all pretty much said the same thing: the film portrayed Catholics as jerks. It had a "twisted heart." Thus portraying Catholicism to "look bad." If I had any evidence to show this was an accident, a misinterpretation on the work, I'd find it easier to look over. Yet, reading comments by Davies himself it's obvious he's extremely anti-Christian. (his Dad was apparently a vicar and some of his quotes on the matter really show how he hates Christianity.) It's kinda sad. :(
The part that gets me is thus: willingly subverting the author's message so it's something you yourself like. Just because one hates what the author says doesn't give one any excuse to subvert it.
I guess writing scripts that are faithful to the author's work and then going on to subverting one because he clearly hated what it had to say just really killed any possibility for me being a fan of his.
:(

Hydra said...

If you haven't seen "Little Dorrit," you're missing out. I almost stopped it after the first episode, too (it almost seemed like a horror movie to me!), but I was really glad I stuck to it and finished it. It comes in a close second to - guess what - "Bleak House" on my favorite-movie list!
~Hydra

Elenatintil said...

Ann - hmmm, that is really interesting! I actually loved the new film of "Brideshead Revisited" although I was disappointed at it's portrayal of Catholicism (though I'm not Catholic) because it missed the heart of the book. However I think Davies has a brilliant understanding of how to adapt novels for films. His Pride and Prejudice is the generally accepted favorite (although it's not mine) and his Sense and Sensibility shows a wonderful understanding of how to make an adaptation suitable for the decade it was made in without loosing the integrity of the book - in fact his S&S could be my all time favorite Jane Austen Adaptation.

I don't know a lot about him, but from what you tell me I see that he could be someone who has been scarred deeply by the Christian church. Which is extremely sad, but unfortunately I know far too many people who have been ill-treated by Christians and thus have left the church, not understanding the grace of Christ because of the meanness of Christians. I could be wrong, but I guess personally I'd give him some grace here.

You also have to remember that he's English, and the English have been more or less one of the most Anti-Catholic countries for a long time. I'm not saying that's right, but that is the fact. Does it mean that he has a right to pervert the heart of a classic? No. But he has shown such a brilliance for adaptations in general that I cannot condemn him on this one point. Most great artists have some sort of glaring flaw that could turn us deeply off. Madness, or womanizers, or atheism -- it's pretty hard to find the perfect artist without any sort of besetting sin to take away our enjoyment of their work.

But I understand how as a Catholic you would feel hurt by him and I would agree with your assessment of Brideshead Revisited. I would just strongly recommend that you not write off deeply enjoying Bleak House or Sense and Sensibility because of this!

Ann H. said...

I do agree with you that just because of a glaring personal fault/shortcoming doesn't mean one should bypass the artist. Not at all, I think that would be wrong. The only reason I found it difficult is that Jeremy Brock and Andrew Davies (from reading things they have said pertaining to Brideshead and Christianity) purposely intended to destroy the very heart of the book. As I said, if it was perhaps a mistake, an accident, it would be different because their intent was to capture it correctly not subvert it. But I think any careful study of the book would reveal the truth to it. Especially if they were concerned with the true meaning of the book.
I myself have enjoyed much of what Davies has worked on, especially since he can be hailed for doing faithful adaptations, so missing the mark on the very center of Brideshead... a deliberate subversion of Brideshead was something I felt annoyed be. so while everything (music, locations, ect) can be spot on the heart of it's twisted...
It is sad, he could of had some terrible experience Idk, but I don't think that's an excuse. It shows that the screenwriter is only going to accurately depict something unless he hates it, than he's willing to kill it. And you're right, I've actually been reading a bit about the anti-Catholicism in England by men like Joseph Pearce (a convert) and well just by studying authors of that time. :P

With that said, I do want to see S&S though! I think I love the story much more than when I first read it. :) Also, while I enjoying the Emma Thompson one this one sounds even more wonderful. I guess I just found it hard to pick them up with being aware that these screenwriters are only going so far to keep things faithful to the authors. I guess the best thing to do is pray and move on. I'll keep a look out for both S&S and Bleak House at my library. :D

Kinsey said...

This is a great favorite around our house. Another excellent Dickens adaptation is "Our Mutual Friend". I have yet to own the whole series on DVD, but I'm dropping serious hints to friends and family, so I have hope that it will be under the tree this Christmas. ;) j/k

Ann H. said...

Did I leave a comment already prior to this? I wasn't sure since it said there was an error...
Anyway, I basically agree with you. And I do think it wrong to bypass an artist because of a glaring fault/shortcoming. After all no one is perfect. ;) However, it's just that the subversion appears deliberate. I admit I haven't seen the film, though I eventually might just to see where and how it actually got twisted. As of now my understanding is pretty much seems to agree with what you said. The acting, the locations, the music, ect are supurb, but the very heart of it-- The Catholic Faith-- is completely twisted. While Jeremy Brock said "God is not the villain" in the film, it appears the screenwriters Davies and Brock aimed at making Christianity appear bad. And considering the book has the Catholic faith as an essential theme it's rather annoying that twisted it around so that the Faith is more of the problem.
So, it just shows that the screenwriters weren't primarily concerned with "getting it right" where it matter, but just changing it to what they wanted. It doesn't make sense to have anti-Christian screenwriters to a Catholic story... it seems to also show lack of respect for the author's work, and really just says that they don't care. :-/
I am going back to what I read on Davies, and I admit it's confusing since it says it's quoting Davies, and then goes to quote Brock and it seems they both had similar pasts. Either that or there was some error in the article/review. (?) Hmm. Maybe they meant to put down Davies? Oh dear, I am confused. :-/ Hmm if that was an error then it would have been Brock who's father was a vicar...

Okay. :) I actually really want to see both that you named, I guess when I read about Brideshead it just was not the best of "blows." :P But I do want see that S&S. :) It sounds really good. ^.^

Elenatintil said...

Ann - I agree. How can we expect non-Christians to accurately convey Christian sentiment from book to screen? (Just look at some of the stuff that has happened to Narnia!!!) It's possible Davies and his cowriter actually legitimately thought the point of the book was something completely differant. Without allowing the Holy Spirit to direct their understanding, I can just see the forces of darkness clouding that understanding so that they really can't see the truth there (especially since they're not looking for it).

Elenatintil said...

In addition, I think the film company saw the book as a "classic" novel rather than a "Christian" novel. They tend to do that. I mean, have you seen an adaptation of Jane Eyre that keeps in the Christian heart of THAT book???

Sarah R. said...

You should see and read Little Dorritt. I first saw it on PBS Masterpiece Theater after around the third episode, so I wasn't put off by the beginning when I went to re-watch it. I've tried to read Dickens before and failed, but I finally read Little Dorritt this summer and enjoyed it. If you can get pass some of the long-winded passage of social critique and Flora's run-on sentences you can appreciate what a brilliant writer Dickens was as he inserts allusions and Biblical references everywhere.

All said, I shall put Bleak House in my queue.

Ann H. said...

Well that's perfectly true. :) (btw!! sorry about my two comments! google kept saying there was an error so I wasn't sure if they went through. oops!)
See, however the two things though that left me a bit "bewildered" and therefore appear to say it was more than an accident are thus (this is from what I have read, so if something isn't true please let me know=]):
Charles is an agnostic, yet the Charles in the movie claims he is an atheist. There is a very significant difference. Why should Charles for this adaption have his mind already closed upon the existence of God?
Also, apparently Julia is asked why she married Rex. Her answer being something along the lines of him being a rich Catholic so her mom made her. o.O Thus being completely contrary to the book. :-/
Why are the characters (Sebastian, Charles, julia...) faults retained, but many of the significant and crucial passages from the book omitted?
Secondly, awhile back I was talking to a friend and he was saying how to "critique" a film or book. He was getting into how important to critique something accurately one needs the history behind it. So, a short study on Brideshead can show two things: Waugh was a convert to Catholicism (and a Catholic till he died) and he was writing in anti-Catholic England and G. K. Chesterton was much of the inspiration behind the book. Looking for a moment at Chesterton one's gonna get extremely different messages than something anti-Catholic... or anti-Christian.

Good points though! and I agree, I've only seen the Jane Erye with Orson Welles *is trying to remember it* hmmm. lol. Again, sorry for those two posts!! I meant only one. silly computers. lol. hope you don't mind; I feel so off topic from your post... but it's been interesting. :)
God bless.

Hydra said...

Elenatintil- I don't agree that Narnia got messed up. Now, there are a couple of Aslan's lines that got twisted that are extremely annoying, but I think the movies have (so far) stayed true to the hearts of the books.

I know PC is the one that pretty much everyone didn't like, and I know it's a lot different from the book, but I think the message stayed the same. (Whether the filmmakers were aware of that, or God was looking out for PC in a special way, I don't know.) PC the book is all about faith and trusting in God. In fact, I think it was a bit of a critique of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.

PC the movie, on the other hand, has the same message, albeit presented in a different way. Yes, Peter was annoying (although I still stick up for him; I'm the only one I know who actually likes him in that movie!), but his character was the central part of the "have faith" message. When he attacks the castle, he fails. It isn't until he trusts in Aslan to save Narnia that it actually does get saved. So the movie is about faith as well as the book.
~Hydra
From Books to Movies and Back Again
(hydrabooksandmovies.blogspot.com)