Our Mutual Friend is my very favorite of the Dickens novels I’ve read (and out of 19 of his complete novels, I’ve read eight.) It’s a tale of love, revenge, redemption, class struggle, hidden identity, and most of all, money: the way poverty grinds people down, the way an inheritance corrupts, the way an occupation forms a man and lack of occupation forms him, too. The stories of John Rokesmith, Eugene Wrayburn, Bella Wilfer, Lizzie Riderhood, the generous Boffins (what other characters can inspire such pure affection?), the ominous Bradley Headstone, Mr. Venus, and many more make the pages come alive with humor, menace, mercenary intent, and tenderness.
Last night I watched the final episode of the 1998 BBC adaptation of Our Mutual Friend, directed by Sandy Welch. This is one of the great adaptations. The acting is superb, the settings truly capture the class differences that are so central to this story, and the characters are played beautifully true-to-life, not as caricatures (as so many Dickens adaptations have them.) If I tried to single out actors to praise, I’d list the entire cast. Stephen Mackintosh as John Rokesmith, Peter Vaughn and Pam Ferris as the Boffins, David Morrissey as Bradley Headstone — all standouts. (And fans of the Harry Potter films won’t have any trouble identifying David Bradley, since Argus Filch seems to be a direct descendant of Rogue Riderhood.) The BBC generally does a wonderful job, but Our Mutual Friend is a long, complex novel with many threads that weave in and out, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from a film adaptation. I was enthralled. If you’ve read the novel, you’ll love this, and if you haven’t, you’ll want to after you see it. What higher recommendation could there be?