(Anna Maxwell Martin, Denis Lawson, et al / 3-Disc DVD / NR / 2006 / BBC Video)
Overview: This mini-series form allows Dickens' panoramic view, brimming with eccentric characters and complex turns of plot, to sprawl out without losing an iota of suspense or momentum. Two innocent young orphans (Patrick Kennedy and Carey Mulligan) are the potential heirs to a fortune, but their fates are snarled in a monumental legal battle known as Jarndyce and Jarndyce.
DVD Verdict: For once, I am happy to find a remake of a fine old Masterpiece Theatre offering that is as good as the original. "Bleak House" is currently available on an DVD with Diana Rigg as the most familiar name; and except for some incomprehensible line readings by a young character named Joe, it is a very good account of the Dickens novel. Having already appeared on Public Television, the remake has Gillian Anderson (yes, the one from "X-Files") as Lady Dedlock, and a cast of 80 speaking roles, many of which are played by actors that will send you searching the cast listings that go by too quickly at the end of each episode. The eight parts will be shown so that the first and last will run two hours and the four in between an hour each. I found the complex plot actually easier to follow in this version than I did in the earlier one. And while I prefer Rigg to Anderson, I think I can easily recommend this new adaptation over the other. The story - lawyers will hate it - involves the infamous Court of Chancery in which disputes over estates can be buried for years until the lawyers' fees make further legalizing unnecessary. Against this background, the case of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce being a major part of it, we have the story of John Jarndyce (Denis Lawson), his ward Ada (Carey Mulligan), her companion Esther (Anna Maxwell Martin), and Ada's beloved Richard (Patrick Kennedy). The latter becomes obsessed with the case, while Esther becomes involved in the mysterious past of Lady Dedlock, who happens to recognize the handwriting on some legal documents delivered by the utterly immoral family solicitor Tulkinghorn (Charles Dance). I will not reveal any more of the plot, lest it spoil your enjoyment. You will wind up guessing much of it, but it is a lot of fun - unless you are a lawyer. Peripheral to the plot are the usual cast of Dickens "characters": Krook the junkman (Johnny Vegas) who finds some incriminating letters (and dies the strangest death in all fiction), Smallweed the moneylender (Phil Davis) who cannot walk by himself and must be "shaken up" by his weird niece every few minutes and who gets the letters, and Miss Flite ( Pauline Collins) who looks forward to "judgment day" when her case will finally be settled and she can set her birds free.
Most interesting of all is the policeman Bucket (Alun Armstong), the first real detective in English fiction. Although he looks like a toady for the rich, he does his job and does it well, solving a murder case and being considerate to a certain lady who would suffer if her connection with the case should come out. Of course, the arm of coincidence in Dickens is a long one; and while a good deal of the plot does strain credulity, the acting and period ambience are of the highest level. The only thing that annoyed me was the director segmenting his "establishing shots" (exterior views of buildings to let us know where we are) into two or three rapid cuts with some electronic "whoosh" for each one. Pretentious and irritating after the first dozen or so. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) and comes with the Special Features of:
The 15-episode series on three discs
Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)