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Last Updated: Friday, 28 October 2005, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
Press reviews: Bleak House
UK newspaper critics give their verdict on the BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, which began on Thursday.


The latest Bleak House is a stir-fry of bite-sized pieces to woo the mid-evening audience after EastEnders with a cast of famous faces.

Denis Lawson as John Jarndyce
The acting in Bleak House has been praised

For newcomers to the story this mass of introductions might have been a bit bewildering.

This is Dickens for the too-busy-to-draw-breath generation. There is no time for reflection or a fog-shrouded London panorama here. It's all intimate conversations and urgent editing.

Imagine Spooks as a classic serial with the key plot details treated in the same zoom-in-quick manner as a threat to national security.

I feel a little smothered by its style but I'm hooked. That's partly thanks to Davies's tweaking of the characters and the strength of the performances.


Behind the puff, what differentiates this production from the standard TV Dickens is that it is being doled out in bitesize morsels, twice weekly.

That, and the extraordinary clarity of Andrew Davies's adaptation, which distils Dickens's lumbering, labyrinthine saga of lives blighted by protracted legal proceedings and intricate questions of heredity into a luminous, instantly addictive piece of television.

Of course any translation from page to screen involves some loss. In last night's double episode opener, the most obvious casualty was London itself. Dickens's brooding portrait of the early-Victorian city, mired in filth, shrouded in fog as impenetrable as the proceedings of the Court of Chancery he so savagely lampooned, was dissipated in the rush to keep the plot moving forward at any cost.

On the plus side, most of Bleak House's drawbacks were effectively dispensed with: the numbing weight of words, the drifts of often suffocating description and a storyline so meandering one could do with a map just to stay on course.

All in all, the prospect of spending further episodes in this company feels not only enticing, but entirely thrilling.


Given the criss-crossing storylines and enormous cast of characters, Davies's decision to present Bleak House in digestible half-hour chunks was a clever one, and made you wonder why no one had done it before.

Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock
Gillian Anderson plays the brittle as Lady Dedlock

The result was by turns thrilling and confounding. The twitchy editing and careening cameras gave it a pleasingly contemporary edge, but you needed a whiteboard and a squeaky pen at the ready to have any hope of remembering who was connected to whom.

Johnny Vegas was put on earth to play a Dickensian low-life, and here he was, red-faced and menacing as Mr Krook, the gin-soaked proprietor of a rag and bottle shop.

Gillian Anderson was handsomely imperious as Lady Dedlock, her erect posture vying with her frock for creaking stiffness.

Like any soap in its early stages, much of it seemed strange, though you knew that within a few weeks, your life would be empty without it.


The Pride And Prejudice scriptwriter has turned to Charles Dickens' tale of secret love and swindled inheritances for his latest drama blockbuster, and the cast is so stuffed with familiar smallscreen faces, it's sometimes difficult to concentrate on the action.

There are some brilliant performances to watch for - including Nathaniel Parker (aka Inspector Linley) as Harold Skimpole, perhaps the most charmingly useless character ever to stalk the Earth.

Unfortunately, there was such a lot of setting-up of characters and stories in this first episode that the yarn didn't really get rolling until the last 15 minutes. But when it did, it was gripping stuff.

People sometimes say that, because of his well-paced stories and lively characters, Dickens would be writing soap operas if he was alive today. But who needs soaps, when we have glorious drama like this?

Bleak House debut draws millions
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In pictures: Bleak House
27 Oct 05 |  In Pictures
Bleak House to become BBC 'soap'
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