Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Discovering the joys of Bleak House

Charles Dickens is one of those Victorian writers I adore and yet,haven't fully digested inton my literary pallet. I've read several of his books(David Copperfield,
Oliver Twist,Great Expectations)that most folk have and a couple that some wouldn't
bother with(The Old Curiosity Shop,Dombey and Son). Bleak House,however,is considered
one of his novels that"serious" Dickens lovers have mastered.

PBS has gotten me back into Bleak House by having their latest Masterpiece Theater
miniseries show the Andrew Davies adaptation starring Gillian Anderson(yep,the X-Files
gal,don't underestimate her in period dramas my friends. She was amazing in The House
of Mirth). Andrew Davies is best known as the adapter of the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle
version of Pride & Prejudice and has put many of the great novels on the small screen
such as Wives and Daughters,The Way We Live Now and Jane Austen's Emma. He's also done
orginal screenplays and contemporary novels such as Tipping the Velvet.

I actually got to met Davies a couple of years ago-my Jane Austen group from the
Republic of Pemberley went to England for the Annual General Meeting(group meetings
have taken place in many different locations). We had dinner with Mr. Davies in Bath where he was treated with much fanfare. He's a real charmer with a ribald sense of humor-delighted in mildly shocking us with such notions as Mr. Knightley having had
feelings for Emma's mother that he transferred to Emma herself. I asked him about
Daniel Deronda(he was working on that at the time)-Deronda being the first George
Eliot novel that I read,I was curious about what the film would be like(saw it on
TV a year or so later and enjoyed it). He praised the actors,particularly Romola
Garai(who's done quite a few films since then).

Anyway,back to Bleak House-I watched part one on Sunday and liked how the multiple
subplots(a Dickens staple)were nicely woven in. The camera angles are rather modern,
very Swoosh,bang! in a CSI mode but rather effective. Along with Gillian Anderson as
Lady Dedlock,the other standout performance is by Charles Dance as Tulkinghorn,the
lawyer eager to discover Lady D's mysterious past. Dance is great at being a menacing
bastard but not overdone(then again,he's got a better script to work with than The Golden Child here). Anna Maxwell Martin as Esther Summerson is rather remarkable as
well. Some actors blend in perfectly in a period film and AMM is one of those who
you have no trouble imaging as a woman of that time(unlike Demi Moore in the Scarlet
Letter,a glaring example of major miscasting).

I have two copies of BH(Dickens is one of those writers who you just have to have
extras of)-a Modern Library paperback and an Oxford Illustrated hardcover. I started
with the ML but wound up using the Oxford instead. Oxford Illustrated editions are
not as easy to find as they use to be(you can order them in sets directly from Oxford
University Press)but worth having if you want a nice reading copy with style. The
Dickens titles are small hardcovers(inbetween a mass market and a trade paperback
in size)with introductions from such people as Osbert Sitwell and the Earl of Wicklow
(they sound so properly British)and original illustrations from the first printings
of the book. Dickens is one of the few authors who it doesn't feel childish to read
with pictures-in fact,having to read him without them is a major deprivation and may
be why many people don't enjoy him as they should.

So,will I finish BH this time? Hopefully,I intend to try. Some would balk at the idea
of reading along with the show but sometimes,going for that carrot on the stick is
only way to get to the end.

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