Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: Little Dorrit

I'm a big fan of the 2008 miniseries of Little Dorrit, and I've read a little bit of the book (though a small part of it), but everything seemed to follow the story okay (maybe a couple of things left out or changed, but nothing too bad). I've heard of this version of Little Dorrit, but I didn't think too much of it, but I saw it on Netflix's instant streaming, so I thought that I would give it a try.

VHS Box Art
Synopsis from Little Dorrit (2008)
William Dorrit is imprisoned in the Marshalsea for debt. His daughter, Amy (also known as Little Dorrit), lives with him in prison and goes out to support him secretly because of his pride. Amy gets a job doing needlework for Mrs. Clennam whose husband and son are overseas in China. When Mrs. Clennam's son Arthur returns from China, he brings word that his father has died and that his dying wish was to correct a wrong. Arthur notices that Amy is working for his mother, and learns that her father is imprisoned in the Marshalsea for numerous debts. He suspects that his family might have something to do with this, and he tries to right the suspected wrong.

This miniseries is divided into two parts: the first part is Arthur Clennam's story, while part 2 is Amy Dorrit's story.

Characters/Presentation of Story
There were three members of the cast that I recognized: Sir Alec Guinness (easily recognizable from Star Wars Episodes 4-6) was William Dorrit; Derek Jacobi (The King's Speech) was Arthur Clennam; and Liz Smith (Lark Rise to Candleford) had a couple minute scene early in Part 2.
Derek Jacobi as Arthur Clennam

I had a lot of issues with this miniseries. First of all, I didn't like how they told about 95% of the story through Arthur's eyes, then part 2 comes and you have to rewatch the entire thing through Amy's eyes. I could understand why they did this if the book was actually like that, but it isn't. I've read about 200-250 pages of Little Dorrit (which I really enjoyed, but I fell away from reading it, so I'll have to start over one of these days... Oh well.), and the book goes back and forth between the different plotlines (for example, there will be a couple of chapters that focus on Arthur and then a couple that focus more on Amy). So the directors told the whole story (complete with spoilers and holes) and then go to Amy where you can tell what's going to happen next? It didn't seem to make much sense to me...

The next issue that I had was what they left out of this miniseries. In the book (and the 2008 miniseries), there are three main plots: Amy Dorrit and her life taking care of her family, Arthur Clennam and how he's trying to find out a family secret, and the escaped convict Rigaud (who does become a pretty big part of the story). They included the first two plots, but completely left out the third. Since that plotline that includes Rigaud becomes very important at the end of the book, they completely had to rework the ending... and not in a good way. The ending just turned out to be a big mess.

There were even subplots left out of the movie (which may be a little more forgivable since you can usually work the story around enough without changing the story and leaving less important parts out). I also didn't like that they mixed up the order of scenes. Like I've said before, I've only read 200-250 pages of Little Dorrit, but even with that little bit that I've read, I could already tell that scenes were mixed up.

If characters weren't left out, their part in the story was changed severely. The Meagles were only there briefly (and you get the impression that Arthur knew them for a really long time), you don't get to see Pet Meagles after she gets married, Daniel Doyce dies in the middle of the story (which wasn't necessary and another reason the ending had to be reworked) and Pancks's had a bigger role in the end than he should have.

I will say this, however. They did do a good job of making Maggy and Pancks look like their characters described in the book and Amy did look young. However, I thought that Derek Jacobi looked too old to be Arthur. In the book, Arthur is supposed to be about 40, but in this movie, he looked like he was in his fifties.

The Marshalsea
The scenery was okay, but I thought that the Marshalsea was too bright for a prison. I know I usually like vivid scenery with lots of colors, but I don't think that it worked for the Marshalsea. I'm not saying to make it black and white, but tone down the colors a little: it is a prison after all. I will say that they did succeed in making the Marshalsea look cramped.

The overall quality of the costumes wasn't too bad. They looked okay and seemed to be constructed properly. However, I think that these costumes are inaccurate to the time period. Little Dorrit takes place around 1826, which would be after the Regency Era and before the Romantic Era. From the looks of the costumes, it seemed like they were more from the 1840s and even 1850s: the way that the sleeves were, the poof of the skirt, and some of the necklines screamed 1840s or 1850s.

Sarah Pickering as Amy Dorrit

I wasn't too impressed with the music score. When music did come on, it usually came on blaring and overly dramatic at times. It was also really difficult to hear some of the speaking parts, namely Amy, but other characters were really hard to hear too...

Overall: 1/5
Honestly, if you want to watch Little Dorrit and really enjoy it, watch the 2008 miniseries: the costuming was closer to the time period (although some seemed like they were from the 1830s, but it would be closer than the 1840s/1850s), the acting was so much better, and it was far, far more interesting. This miniseries is very dull (which it shouldn't be since the story itself is interesting) and even hard to hear (I know Amy is supposed to be quiet, but to the point that you can't hear her?). I will say that this miniseries doesn't include the questionable scenes that were in the 2008 miniseries (although those scenes can be skipped over fairly easily), so if you wanted to show a younger audience this Little Dorrit, there really shouldn't be a problem with questionable scenes: the hard part would be actually keeping the kids interested in this movie...

Little Dorrit is available on VHS or on Netflix instant streaming. It is rated G and runs for 357 minutes.

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