Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: Bleak House (2005)

And how's this for my 500th post? This movie was recommended to me by Melody from Regency Delight ~Jane Austen, etc.~ quite a while ago. Finally! I got to watch it on Netflix! I had seen previews of Bleak House on other BBC DVDs, but I didn't know much about Bleak House other than it had something to do about wills. I also saw that there are a number of people on the blogs that really like it. So one day, I saw it was on Netflix and finally gave it a try.

Box Art
The case Jarndyce and Jarndyce has been in the courts for generations. There are multiple wills that say who will inherit a large fortune, but no one knows who is the rightful heir. Esther Summerson, an orphan raised by a Miss Barnaby, is taken into the care of John Jarndyce, a kind, older man with two wards, Ada Clare and Richard Carstone. Meanwhile, Lady Dedlock, wife of Sir Leicester Dedlock, holds a secret from her husband which has attracted the interest of unscrupulous lawyer, Mr. Tulkinghorn.

There are a number of recognizable cast members in Bleak House. Anna Maxwell Martin (Esther Summerson) can also be seen in North and South as Bessy Higgins. Gillian Anderson (Lady Dedlock) can also be seen in Great Expectations (2011) as Miss Havisham. Pauline Collins (Miss Flite) can also be seen in the first two series of Upstairs, Downstairs as underhouse parlor maid Sarah. Alun Armstrong (Bucket) can also be seen in Little Dorrit as Flintwinch and in The Mystery of Edwin Drood as Mr. Grewgious. Richard Harrington (Allan Woodcourt) can also be seen in Series 4 of Lark Rise to Candleford as Gabriel Cochrane. Joanna David (Mrs. Badger) can be seen in various period dramas including Pride and Prejudice (1995) and He Knew He Was Right

Like in Little Dorrit, Bleak House has a variety of characters. Some are likable, others you practically can't stand. This section of my review may run a little long, just a warning.

Let's start with the likable characters, shall we?
Esther Summerson

First, let's start with our heroine, Esther Summerson. Esther is a very sweet character and probably one of the least flawed (if not the least flawed) characters in Bleak House. She is a very caring person and I very quickly liked her. Even though it risks her health, she takes care of a poor boy named Jo, and nearly dies from contracting small pox from him which leaves scars on her face (which eventually mostly fade by the end of Bleak House). She is very close with both Ada and Richard. Her and Ada do not keep secrets from each other: Spoiler when Esther has to keep the secret about her being Lady Dedlock's daughter from Ada, it causes a little bit of a rift between them, but despite this, they still remain good friends. End of Spoiler

Allan Woodcourt
Esther is involved in a love triangle between her guardian, John Jarndyce (another likable character) and the doctor Allan Woodcourt (also a likable character). Spoiler She initially accepts a proposal from John Jarndyce (to which I kept thinking "NO! HE'S TOO OLD! Sure, he's a good guy, but he's too old!"), but he lets her out of the engagement by the end to marry the man she really loves, Allan Woodcourt ("YES!"). End of Spoiler John Jarndyce, like Esther, is a kind person, but he is a much more serious character than most characters. For a good deal of the story, I wondered why he was so nice to Esther, Ada, and Richard, but I think it is because he is a naturally kind character. Allan Woodcourt is also a kind character. He is a doctor that takes care of the poor of London and doesn't make much money. I think that that is why him and Esther are much more suited for each other than Esther and John Jarndyce: Esther willingly cares for Jo without expecting much of anything in return and Allan Woodcourt treats his patients with the same attitude.

Richard Carstone and Ada Clare
Esther becomes very good friends with wards Ada Clare and Richard Carstone. Like Esther, Ada was very caring and sweet. I liked Richard, but I felt he was too obsessive over Jarndyce and Jarndyce (and so did everyone else in the story), Spoiler and that was what killed him in the end. End of Spoiler There was a scene that annoyed me about Ada, though. Spoiler When Ada tells Esther about her's and Richard's secret marriage, Ada essentially says (not a direct quote), "Sorry I kept this secret from you, but you kept a secret from me." It was a bit catty of Ada to say that to Esther and it really irked me. End of Spoiler

Lady Dedlock
In a way, I also liked Lady Dedlock... Or probably more accurately, I felt sorry for her. She has a huge burden on her heart that she has to keep from Sir Leicester and is hassled by Mr. Tulkinghorn at the same time. Spoiler After thinking for all those years that the daughter she had was dead, she finds out that her daughter is alive and is Esther, but they can't see each other after she tells Esther that she is her mother. I was hoping that everything would work out in the end and that Esther and Lady Dedlock can see each other (even if Sir Leicester knew and Esther could visit them in the evenings privately or something), but alas! it didn't work out. End of Spoiler

Now onto the irritating characters.

Mr. Harold Skimpole
I'll start with one of the most irritating, Mr. Skimpole. Did he really have a purpose in the story other than to be irritating? He was fairly useless and annoying! His whole "I am but a child" shtick was too much to be borne! Plus he was a bad influence on Richard, especially after getting him his own lawyer. Well, I guess I knew he was going to be bad when he said that he was a doctor but didn't go through with it and had a wife and child(ren?) that he left somewhere. Seriously, if Charles Dickens left him out of the story, I think it would have gone on smoothly without him.

Mr. Guppy
Mr. Guppy... The man who couldn't take no for an answer. Sure, he wasn't really harmful to anyone, just annoying. He kept proposing to Esther, even though she said no each time. It was a little creepy how he was watching Esther for a good part of the beginning, but then Esther told him to stop watching her and he did... He just researched her past for her... What really made me angry about him was that after Esther is scarred by small pox, he suddenly was like "I can't marry you now because my situation won't allow it" (again, not a direct quote). What a jerk!

Mr. Tulkinghorn (above) and
Mr. Smallweed (below)
"Ooh, my bones!" That's right, Mr. Smallweed. Villainous and annoying (okay, that can also be applied to Mr. Tulkinghorn. In fact, why don't I just combine both of them into one paragraph since they practically worked for each other or along the same lines?) Mr. Smallweed is greedy, cruel, and not an honorable person at all (woah, this can also be applied to Mr. Tulkinghorn too. No, they are not the same person). I guess the difference between them is that Mr. Tulkinghorn is a lot more clean cut than Mr. Smallweed. Both are after Lady Deadlock and her secret (though Mr. Smallweed is more interested in the money while Tulkinghorn was more interested in having power over her). Both men are hated by almost everyone in the story.

And sure, there are plenty of minor characters that I could go through, but I'm only going through the main characters. As it is, this section is very, very long! :-P I'll end this section by saying that yes, there is a verdict to the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case, and it will have you face-palming yourself.

Secrets to be revealed!
The scenery is mostly bleak (fitting, isn't it?). There are some scenes with a little bit of color, but most scenes are dark. What I didn't like about some of the camera angles was that the camera would move very quickly in a lot of scenes: for example, you could be looking at the exterior of a house and then it zooms into the house in the same shot. It also got to be a bit much when this same zoomed in technique was used on characters/characters' faces. If they backed off a little on this technique, then I wouldn't have too much to complain about. Anyways, scenes take place in a variety of places. We get to see the exterior and interior of Chesney Wold, the home of the Dedlocks (a very grand house, indeed), and the Dedlock's London home (which was also very nice). Bleak House, the home of John Jarndyce, is not as bleak as the name (as also remarked by Esther), however it's past is a bit bleak. We also get to see poorer houses, which are mostly dirty and falling apart.

The music is very serious throughout the miniseries, excepting the wedding song at the end. The wedding song is very, very similar to a song that is in Downton Abbey (John Lunn composed the music for both Bleak House and Downton Abbey). The music overall is very good and worth listening to.

The costuming is very nice! Just by looking at the costumes, I would say that the story takes place sometime in the 1840s or the early 1850s; though since Dickens published Bleak House in the 1850s, I'm inclined to think it takes place in the early 1850s.

Lady Dedlock has a number of lovely dresses! The dark green striped dress that she wear when, I believe, when she is traveling can also be seen in North and South on Margaret Hale during the final scene. Personally, I think Lady Dedlock pulled off the dress better (for some reason, I didn't like that dress on Margaret Hale, but that's another period drama, isn't it? ;-)  ). Lady Dedlock also wears some nice fichus, some of which are embroidered. But overall, Lady Dedlock's dresses are fairly dark, which would go with her character.
Esther with John Jarndyce

Esther and Ada also have nice dresses. Unlike Lady Dedlock, their dresses are brighter and have more color to them (though Esther does have a couple of darker dresses). Instead of wearing the decorated fichus that Lady Dedlock wears, Esther has a little bit of lace along the neckline of some of her dresses.

Bonnets... There were plenty of nice head wear in Bleak House. Lady Dedlock had hats and bonnets while the other ladies had bonnets. As with the dresses, Lady Dedlock's bonnets were dark while Ada's and Esther's were lighter and more colorful.

Overall: 4/5
Upon viewing the first episode, I didn't think I would very much like Bleak House as much as other period dramas, but once I watched more of it, I got very interested and very into the plot. There are lots of twists and turns in the plot that really keep you watching. Careful, you may go too quickly through it and get the feelings that I related to here.

Content wise, there is some violence and a few people die, some alcoholism, and a very brief scene containing opium (though this scene is divided between episodes), but nothing is graphic. There is also a scene that takes place in a morgue; it's not graphic, but it can be a little creepy. I would probably rate Bleak House TV-PG for content.

Bleak House is available on DVD and is currently on Netflix. It runs for 510 minutes: it is made up of fifteen half hour episodes (though on Netflix they put everything into 8 episodes that combined 2 episodes in one episode).


  1. Thank you so much for reviewing this!!! Bleak House is my favourite ever period drama as well as my favourite Dickens novel, so it was lovely to read a post about it! :) I seriously recommend that anyone who hasn't already watched this but loves period dramas get ahold of it and watch it. And I agree - one of the best things about it is the gorgeous costuming!

  2. This one was so weird...definitely had some memorable scenes! VERY Dickens, and quite dark too, I suppose. Anyway, I did enjoy it! I have a feeling I never read this review since you published it last year while I was gone...and then last July, while still in Alaska, I got the opportunity to watch it myself on Netflix. :) Anyway, yes, strange and interesting and dark and fascinating and very good. :)

  3. Plus he was a bad influence on Richard, especially after getting him his own lawyer. Well, I guess I knew he was going to be bad when he said that he was a doctor but didn't go through with it and had a wife and child(ren?) that he left somewhere. Seriously, if Charles Dickens left him out of the story, I think it would have gone on smoothly without him.

    That is why Mr. Skimpole was necessary to the story.


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