Recently, my friend Laura loaned me her copy of the 2008 BBC production of Little Dorrit. I watched it over a couple of days — it’s 14 half-hour episodes — and thought I would just mention it here.
Little Dorrit is a spectacular novel, with dozens of characters. It’s criss-crossed with wonderfully complex themes of freedom and imprisonment, light and shadow, richness and poverty. In some ways it’s very like my favorites of Dickens’s novels, Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend, and I think an argument could be made that it forms a kind of trilogy with those two. The adaptation (screenplay by Andrew Davies, who is usually pretty reliable) does a good job with a complex plot and the big cast, but a lot of these themes are muddied or lost. Still, I enjoyed the entire production, and if this is the sort of thing you enjoy watching, you probably will too.
Of course Davies makes changes to the novel in order to heighten the drama. (This is frankly one of my pet peeves in most adaptations of novels. Don’t get me started on the ways they… heightened the drama… in the Lord of the Rings films.) Rigaud, a villainous Frenchman, plays a much bigger role in the adaptation than in the book, possibly because his mysterious motives and sneering… er… Frenchness cast a shadow on everything he touches. Arthur Clennam is more heroic. Pet Meagles is more appealing and less insipid. Fanny is more outspokenly kind to Amy. In other words, people lose some of their chiaroscuro and become either light or dark — less subtle.
That aside, however, Davies gets a lot right. Amy’s kindness and loyalty in the face of her family’s monstrous ungratefulness hits all the right notes. The theme of hidden power is also deftly handled — that power rests in the hands of those who can maintain a serene and friendly outward appearance, despite the ruin and disgrace of those they touch. And Mr. Dorrit, the Father of the Marshalsea, is appropriately complex. The performances are terrific, from Claire Foy, Matthew McFadyen, Tom Courtenay, Eddie Marsan, and others. If you’re inclined to see this, I’d get the popcorn and settle in.