TV Review: “Dickensian” – Enticing

Written by Caroline Malcolm January 09, 2016


The new BBC One series, Dickensian, has aired six of its twenty episodes, and so far it’s proved to be a thoroughly researched and mysteriously enticing creation. Full of nasty characters and vicious plots, this is a series which promises to capture the heart of Dickens’s classic literary thrillers.

Dickensian is the conception of several directors and writers, including Tony Jordan who has worked with the long-running and high-rated television soap, EastEnders. This new Victorian-based soap takes the lives of various Dickens characters from a selection of his most famous novels – including Bleak House, A Christmas Carol, The Old Curiosity Shop, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend and Oliver Twist –, and has placed them in a new combined story which unfolds in the grim heart of London.

“There will be toil and trouble Sykes in the veins of London.”

The characters are almost entirely true to Dickens’s own creations; all that Tony Jordan has done (apart from mixing the characters of various books into one story) is create fictitious bridging relationships between the characters of the books, as well as playing on and developing the back stories that Dickens alluded to in the original narratives. The series opens rather messily as the viewer tries to get a sense of who each character is and how they know each other. But the initial episode soon singles out the goodies and the baddies through a truly eccentric Dickensian style. There is Jacob Marley (Peter Firth) who is hated by everyone in his neighbourhood for various reasons; including the young girl Nancy (Bethany Muir) that Marley has abused; and his heartless business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge (Ned Dennehy). But one fateful night, Marley is murdered in an alley and inspector Bucket (Stephen Rea) arrives to investigate the crime and unlock the sinister secrets of the Dickensian world. Meanwhile, the other characters are not subdued by Marley’s death. Plots and plans emerge amongst siblings, spouses and neighbours as love, money and rivalry create delicious drama. And with another sixteen episodes to go, this Victorian soap has much more grisly lies and treachery left to unravel.

“Murder is never pretty, but it is fascinating.”

But so far, Dickensian is a thrilling artistic and imaginative take on the classic work of the unique Charles Dickens. As someone who knows Dickens’s work well and loves his style, I was concerned that Dickensian would corrupt the integrity of Dickens’s narrative genius and fascinating characters. The result was in fact quite the opposite, as so far Dickensian has proven to be highly intelligent, innovative, well researched and a great tribute to the literary work as well as the socio-political intentions of Dickens. As Claire Tomalin, a biographer of Dickens has said, “There’s a painting, ‘Dickens’s Dream’, by Robert William Buss in which he’s in his study and all the characters are around him on the walls. Tolstoy was known to say that all of Dickens’s characters were his friends; they lived in his mind together. I think Dickens would have liked this TV version. He was excited by new things and new ways of reaching people.”

“I will have my revenge, I will strip her of her fortune and her pride.”

The first four episodes of Dickensian were beautifully constructed in terms of scripting and mise-en-scene and mise-en-shot. The aesthetics were gorgeous and after the initial chaos of the first episode, it became clear and collected and very compelling. It was fun to see a great group of British actors and actresses such as Ned Dennehy, Anton Lesser and Pauline Collins come together, many of whom have previously played very opposite types of characters in other BBC Dickens adaptations, thus revealing their true versatility. But who knows how this high-profile series will continue. So far Dickensian has quietened any concerns about betraying the soul of Dickensian literature, and has provided a fresh and bold face to classical television drama.

My Rating: 9/10


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