Friday, July 28, 2017

Review of Bleak House (2005)!

Well! I have just finished watching the delightful Bleak House. Last autumn I had the pleasure of listening to the book — thirty hours+ long and worth every minute of it. I had forgotten some parts of the book and enjoyed going over it again. Indeed, in looking up the wording of favorite quotes for this post, I got caught up in reading over parts again. It would be a long and tedious post were I to include everything I smiled over or thrilled to, but I give you this link, my readers, and encourage you to explore it for yourself. Better yet, read the book.
But our business today is primarily with the movie. Without further ado,


First of all, you should know I don't do summaries. To summarize a Dickens novel would take a book itself. (There are upwards of twenty important characters, depending on how you count.) But if you aren't familiar with the story, I shall attempt to provide some background for this review.

Esther Summerson is an orphan of uncertain parentage. The story begins when she is about the age of twenty. Her guardian John Jarndyce, whom she has never met, has brought her to live with him as a companion for his wards Ada Clare and Richard Carstone, also about eighteen or twenty. They are all fast friends (Rick and Ada very close friends, I might add), but Richard soon becomes involved with the suit in Chancery, Jarndyce and Jarndyce. This case has been in the Chancery court for generations, contesting the various wills made by a long dead John Jarndyce. If the case can be resolved, Richard and Ada may receive a large inheritance. Their cousin Jarndyce warns Richard not to pin his hopes on this, as many men have been ruined by doing so, and encourages him as he starts to look for a profession. Then more stuff happens.

And there's also a lot of other people, but without wishing to give many spoilers or extend this brief summary beyond reason, I will simply explain each person/event as he comes into my review.

I'd like to get one thing out of the way immediately, which is to say that this movie has nothing in it which I would call questionable for teenagers/adults (believe me, I'm very sensitive to such things), but it is not for children. There are several uses of d---n,  a few (not at all crude) references to illegitimacy, but I think more disturbing, several death scenes. The body count in this story is rather high! One character dies in a rather shocking scene, with groans and gasps. Two characters look grey, cough blood, and die (not gruesomely.) One character is shot off screen and we later see him lying dead on the ground. Several bodies are shown briefly. Again, none of this is gratuitous, I simply wouldn't recommend the film for children.

If you haven't time to read any farther in this review, let me hastily state that the short version is: I loved it and thought it was a thoroughly excellent adaptation. Of course there were differences (enumerated below, naturally), but only such as were needed due to the constrained nature of a film vs. book.


Richard and Ada were both great. At first, I thought Ada looked way too young, but I grew used to that. I did think Ada was a little more... defensive? than I remembered her from the book. She seemed irritated when *SMALL SPOILER* Jarndyce or Esther lamented Richard's folly. *END SPOILER*
Jarndyce and Esther both looked different from my mental image of them, so at first I wasn't loving either one, but they grew on me. Jarndyce's manner was perfect. One of my favorite parts about Dickens is all the little mannerisms his characters have, and I'm glad the movie captured these so well. I love Jarndyce's constant comments about the wind.

I also found Jo, the crossing boy, different than I pictured but not a bad actor. Mr. Snagsby, the law stationer who befriends Jo, didn't seem to come into the movie as much as the book, but he was perfect. He coughed and said "not to put to fine a point upon it" just as a Mr. Snagsby ought to.
*SPOILER* Jo's death was a very sad scene. I love how they had Jarndyce say this quote from the book: Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day. *END SPOILER*

Is it just me, or is Guppy kind of creepier than he is in the book? At least, I don't remember him staring at the house for days and days (or being described as sightly greasy). Very good, Mr. Gorman.

Sir Leicester, Lady Dedlock, and Tulkinghorn were absolutely perfect. Now, it is very nice to have an excellent Sergeant George, a delightful Gridley and spot-on Guppy. But I think I do not exaggerate when I say that to have a good Lady Dedlock is vital. Sir Leicester, to use Dickens' words, is 'an honourable, obstinate, truthful, high-spirited, intensely prejudiced, perfectly unreasonable man.' Timothy West played this character very well. He is not bad man, but he is definitely A Nobleman. His love for Lady Dedlock is moving.

There is a shocking lack of pictures of Sir Leicester on the internet. Several with My Lady in the foreground but, search as you will (I did), none of Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet, clearly shown. You'll just have to take my word for it that he looked the part.

Tulkinghorn was just as cold, compassionless and cruel as any Tulkinghorn ought to be. He is not one of those characters you hate and also kind of feel bad for. He is not one of those villains you secretly like. So I can't even say "I love Tulkinghorn (referring to the actor)." I did not enjoy his screen time and wished he would just go away. That is exactly how one ought to feel towards such a man, so I think Charles Dance did his job.

Not to put too fine a point upon it, but Lady Dedlock's mannerisms — the way she moved her head, the curious way she pursed her lips (pictured below because I can't describe) — seemed to fit her character very well. Of course she was gorgeous as My Lady ought to be. 

I was pleased with Caddy and Mrs. Jellyby, the Turveydrops, Sergeant George (I love him, actually), Phil (tacking off, as usual), Krook (disgusting sort), Alan Woodcourt and Miss Flite. Poor Miss Flite, for those who haven't read the book, also has an endless suit in Chancery. ('The one great principle of the English law is, to make business for itself,' you know.) She keeps a lot of caged birds and says that when she has a judgment in her case she will let them all free. One of her quirks is not wanting to tell their names, which are Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach. 
Nemo/Hawdon seemed to have more movie time than he did in the book. It seemed like he was basically introduced and then died, in the novel. But as he ends up being an important part of the story, I suppose the movie people thought we ought to have some clue who the guy was before killing him off. 

Gridley, on the other hand, had hardly any screen time, but what I saw I liked. Vholes was not how I pictured him, but he was well played and, again, they kept his little mannerisms like mentioning his daughters he had to support and calling Rick "Mr. C".
Smallweed was even MORE disgusting than the book! Still humourous, though. "Shake me up, Judy!"

Harold Skimpole is a very interesting character whom I have yet to entirely figure out. At the conclusion of Bleak House the book, my opinion was that he was of a childlike mind, but he could have endeavoured to be more thoughtful. After watching the mini series, I now am drifting more towards the opinion that his manner is entirely put on. What do you think, readers? Is Harold Skimpole a selfish, lazy man who takes bribes, or just a child in grown-up's skin?

Inspector Bucket was excellent. Throughout the book and movie, one is constantly wondering if he is a "good" character or a "bad" character. (In this respect he reminds me of Pancks from Little Dorrit.) I enjoy a character like this; like Sir Leicester, he is not clear cut. Sir Leicester has clear faults (ahem, major snob) but *SPOILER* he forgives My Lady seemingly without a second thought. *END SPOILER* Likewise, Bucket tells Jo to move on and arrests Sergeant George, but he seems to pity Gridley and doesn't tell The Damaging Secret when he easily could have. 

My Lady's maid Hortense was great. To quote Charles Dickens on the subject (why not?): There is something indefinably keen and wan about her anatomy, and she has a watchful way of looking out of the corners of her eyes without turning her head which could be pleasantly dispensed with, especially when she is in ill humor and near knives. 


There were a fair amount of characters not included in the adaptation, but as mentioned above, Dickens is not known for a small amount of characters. Mr. Smallweed's wife and grandson, Tony Jobling (Weevel), Sir Leicester's many cousins, Mrs. Snagsby, and Sergeant George's friends the Bagnets.  Their removal didn't change the storyline much, though, so I was not too offended. (I would have enjoyed seeing Mrs. Bagnet on screen though!) What I lamented more was the lack of scenes with the Reverend Chadband. If you don't remember this man, he is a hilarious "parson" (he doesn't have a church) who calls everyone "my friends" and can only speak in sermons. (Sermons comprised of obvious rhetorical questions.) I must give you a sample, and then you will agree that he deserved more than his ninety seconds.
"My young friend," says Chadband, "it is because you know nothing that you are to us a gem and jewel. For what are you, my young friend? Are you a beast of the field? No. A bird of the air? No. A fish of the sea or river? No. You are a human boy, my young friend. A human boy. O glorious to be a human boy! And why glorious, my young friend? Because you are capable of receiving the lessons of wisdom, because you are capable of profiting by this discourse which I now deliver for your good, because you are not a stick, or a staff, or a stock, or a stone, or a post, or a pillar.

The events were mostly kept the same, but of course the order was at times rearranged a little. I noticed two changes the most. *SPOILER* I did prefer the way Jarndyce's proposal was done in the book. "Is this the mistress of Bleak House?" I liked his letter, assuring her that if she said no they would never mention the subject again, etc.  *END SPOILER*  I also thought that the ending scene at the end was kind of... Hollywood. I mean, sure the movie goes like to see familiar faces. But really, would you *MINOR SPOILER* actually invite Inspector Bucket to your wedding? Harold Skimpole? Mrs. Rouncewell is a nice lady, but Esther doesn't even know her. *END SPOILER*

All in all, as a book to movie transfer, I'd give it five stars.


I'd just like to make a note about the way this movie was filmed, because I think the style was very interesting. Sometimes the camera would move, like a person's eye might. When switching scenes to Bleak House or Chesney Wold they would flash several different angles of the house. And finally, when two people were in conversation they often filmed a person with some small object close to the camera, partially obscuring their face.

This is a very poor picture of Mr. Smallweed, but you can see the effect.
I did feel that the film was sometimes too dark physically; I found myself trying to brighten my screen several times when it was already all the way bright.


My favorite part! I loved the costumes in this movie. I know very little about the period so I cannot really comment on the accuracy. It did seem to me, however, that Ada ought to have had her hair up. Towards the end of the movie she began having it up/only a curl or two down, but at first it was almost entirely hanging loose. I'm not certain of her exact age, but I don't think she is younger than eighteen. This was probably the movie's attempt to show her growing older, but it just made her seem even younger than she already looked (and therefore her falling in love with Richard seemed a little ridiculous.)
Otherwise, there was nothing overtly modern, but to the untrained eye like mine it's very easy for a film to throw in an 1820s bonnet with 1840s dress and a man in an 1850s frock coat. So I will simply comment on the aesthetic appeal, which was great. :)  (I do apologize for the poor quality of photos following; there are very few pictures available on the web.)

Honestly, I could have done an entire post just on costumes. If I had to choose just one character's wardrobe I would take Esther's. However, my favorite dresses are some of Lady Dedlock's.

Ada's wardrobe is composed of a lot of plaids, generally on the brown spectrum. 

(I'm really not at all qualified to comment on the finer points of the styles in this film; as mentioned above I know very little about the period. So I'm just pointing out details I like.) The bottom two dresses seem to be cut on a similar style: buttons up the front, loose sleeves coming to a narrow cuff. I like the lace edging the neckline on the left. But I also like the slightly more elegant look of the green-gold upper left dress, with the very fitted bodice and narrow sleeves. However, my favorite of Ada's dresses is the floral one (pictured above); the style almost reminds me of something from the 1770s. I love the sprigged pattern.

The only one of Ada's I actively dislike is her birthday dress.

Once again, I don't know much about the 1850s in dress, but both the material and the sheer sleeves on her dress just looked so... costume.
Here we get a look at another of Ada's brown dresses (with her hair down, I might add), as well as a nice view of one of my favorite of Esther's.

Esther's dresses tend to be more in the grey/blue palette. You don't have to know me long to know this is basically my wardrobe. :P Her dresses are for the most part simple but beautiful.

I love the grey/purple color of the bottom right dress, as well as intricate details on the bodice. The two blue dresses on the left side are typical of Esther's wardrobe. She had one or two others in a similar style. I like the upper left best. The bodice and sleeves seem to fit her figure very well, and the lace stands out against the simple cut.
I'm not sure if anyone else noticed this, but after The Illness, Esther started wearing her hair differently. Instead of all neatly but elegantly pulled back, during the second half of the mini series she always seems to have these side curls which I'm really not a fan of. Notice the difference between the upper left above and the lower left.

She also wears this lovely green one several times. It's cut in a similar style as the blue grey one (shown above, with Ada) she also wears frequently. I like the shorter sleeves and the buttons up the front.
Lady Dedlock has a large wardrobe in several colors: red and green predominately, with a touch of black and blue.

On the far left, she has sheer sleeves similar to Ada's birthday dress. Once again, I'm not a fan. However period it may be, to me it looked fake. 
Lady Dedlock has at least two dresses she wears when traveling or going out.

If you've seen North and South (2004), this one will be familiar to you as Margaret's train scene ensemble! I like the hat Lady Dedlock wears in this scene. (I would totally love to have a traveling dress and hat.)

However, one of my absolute favorites of My Lady's is this pale blue grey costume below. I just love the lace details and the beautiful bodice. (You also get a look at another of Esther's dresses, not one of my favorites. Once again, a nice blue fabric, but I don't like the large open sleeves. In the "Character" section above, you can see the front of this dress.)

Sidenote: I also really like Lady Dedlock's hair (the same in all scenes), except for this tiny curl that hangs down in the back on her right. It always kind of bugged me.

Three more of Lady Dedlock's:

The two green ones are in my top three dresses that My Lady owns. Click on the photo or scroll up to the second picture of Lady Dedlock to get a closer look at the pale green dress. She always wears it with a sheer embroidered fichu, the details of which are simply lovely. The black evening gown is worn with a black fichu; I notice the sleeves are sheer but patterned with a simple design. I'm not sure whether this is accurate or not (seems a little more twentieth century to me) but it's pretty. Lastly, the deep emerald one on the right. The gorgeous color, the rich material (at least, it looks like nice material) and the delicate lace on the cuffs is what puts this dress in the top three.

That concludes my overall thoughts on the costumes. All three women had even more ensembles (and I didn't even go into Mr. Turveydrop, Miss Flite or Mrs. Rouncewell), but I hope I gave you an idea of the visual side of the film.

So what do you think, readers? Is Mr. Guppy creepier than he was in the book? What is your opinion on Harold Skimpole? And given the choice between Ada, Esther and My Lady, whose wardrobe would you take?

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  1. I've never heard of this book or movie! I love Dickens, though; I should go and look it up. :-)
    I like My Lady's outfits best. :-D

    1. I apologize for this very late comment. Blogger was being difficult with me and for a time I couldn't publish comments??

      Yes, you should look it up! It might be my favorite Dickens. (It's so hard to choose, though.) Yes, My Lady's are beautiful.


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