Every so often, I encounter a movie that touches me in a very personal way. Pride and Prejudice (1995) was one, Anne of Green Gables another. Fiddler on the Roof holds a special place in my heart. So does Little Dorrit.
I can't really explain why. There isn't any one tangible part of the seven-and-a-half-hour miniseries that I can point to and say, "This is what makes this movie so good." The characters (usually my favorite element of any book or movie) are memorable, touching, and real--but the plot, too, is intricate and wonderful and amazing. The music is perfection and the cinematography outstanding, the costumes by turns beautiful and ugly (but always just right). And when I watch Little Dorrit I find myself in another world. I laugh, I cry (a lot...), I'm swept up and mesmerized in this epic film. It touches my romantic sensibilities, it brings me back down to earth with the reminder that not everything is happily ever after. I realize that I sound like a gushy fangirl, but there are times when we all need to be gushy fangirls.
|Matthew Macfadyen as Arthur Clennam and Claire Foy as Amy Dorrit|
|Claire Foy as Amy Dorrit|
I am so very bad at writing synopses of stories that I shan't even attempt one--instead, I'll provide you with a link to Wikipedia's synopsis and just start rambling.
|Uncle Frederick Dorrit, Fanny Dorrit, Amy Dorrit, William Dorrit and Edward "Tip" Dorrit|
I can't get over how wonderful Dickens' characters are. In one of the Emily books by Lucy Maud Montgomery, (I can't remember if it's Emily of New Moon or Emily Climbs) Aunt Elizabeth scolds Emily for crying over David Copperfield. She says something to the effect of, "How can you cry over these people who do not even exist?" Emily replies, "Why, Aunt Elizabeth, they ARE real--do you mean to say that Miss Betsy Trotwood is a figment of the imagination?"
The characters in the book seem to leap off the page--in the film, they're even better. Usually, I prefer books to their screen adaptations, but LD is the exception. The movie is better than the book because it brings the characters to life in a way that the written narrative and dialogue could not quite achieve. I feel like a traitor to the Written Word, but... yeah... the movie's better.
|Claire Foy as Amy Dorrit|
|Matthew Macfadyen as Arthur Clennam|
Arthur Clennam, the hero, is the ultimate Mr. Nice Guy. Matthew Macfadyen IS Arthur Clennam (not Mr. Darcy) and I am quite ashamed to admit that I was annoyed when I first saw him. Laboring under the mistaken belief that he "didn't look like Arthur" and "wasn't handsome enough" I quickly realized my error as the movie progressed. Arthur, whose mother employs Amy Dorrit as a seamstress, is convinced that her family and his are somehow intertwined. After his father died far away in China, Arthur returned to England to find his mother and give her the watch that his father pressed into his hands with the words, "Your mother, Arthur; put it right." Arthur's strong sense of duty prevails him to go back to Mrs. Clennam (who had been a cruel and exacting woman, punishing Arthur constantly since he was a baby) and ask her what the family might have done that needs to be put right.
|Tom Courtenay as Mr. Dorrit|
William Dorrit, Amy's father, is first and foremost a gentleman. ("She understood you were a lady, the daughter of a gentleman? As good a lady as any other?") He's a gentleman in reduced circumstances, but he is and never will cease to be WILLIAM DORRIT. He adapts himself to his low position by acting as the respected Father of the Marshalsea, condescending and benevolent to everyone there. You can't help but pity him--in his pride, he is never truly happy. In the Marshalsea, he wants nothing more than to be back up in the world. Once he inherits a fortune and leaves the Marshalsea, he is obsessed by the fear that his past in prison will be found out. Yep, Mr. Dorrit inherits a fortune, all thanks to...
...Mr. Pancks! "Pancks the gypsy fortune-teller" is the snorting, snuffling rent collector at Bleeding Heart Yard, the tenements adjacent to the Marshalsea. He's a detective on the side, and it is he (acting under Arthur Clennam's request) who finds out about Mr. Dorrit's large inheritance. (First, of course, he must make sure that there are no other Dorrits standing in the way of the inheritance. When he discovers that the next of kin, Uncle Ned, is dead, the case is closed.) Pancks is hated by the tenants of Bleeding Heart Yard, because he relentlessly demands their money each week ("Rent-day! Rent-day!") However, he is only acting under the orders of his ruthless employer, Mr. Casby. Underneath, Pancks is as soft as butter. Also hysterical. And endearing.
|Arthur with Pancks (Eddie Marsden)|
|Andy Serkis as Rigaud/Blandois|
And I must not forget Rigaud, alias Lagnier, alias Blandois, alias Blan-doys. (That last on is just Pancks' mispronunciation, though.) He's evil to the core, sinister yet almost charming, and so French that we turned on the subtitles. His overpowering obnoxiousness is actually funny, but there's nothing funny about Blandois when you realize just what he's capable of doing. This guy is very bad. So is the Marshalsea's wine, but that's beside the point. Rigaud manages to get a hold of some incriminating papers that might just cause the downfall (hehe, literally) of the House of Clennam. And Rigaud is not above extorting money from Mrs. Clennam to pay for his silence. Somehow, too, these mysterious papers are tied in with the watch Mr. Clennam entrusted to his son Arthur, with the words Do Not Forget clasped inside. Mysterious music please, maestro.
Fanny's most devoted and rather foppish admirer may not be up to the mark in all subjects, but you can't help liking him. He has rather a habit of repeating himself, admires women who have no nonsense about them, and enjoys ratting with a few good terriers. (Not much ratting in Venice. Lot of rats, though. Odd, that.) His mater refuses to let him associate with Fanny "that little dancing girl" but when the Dorrits' ship comes in, Sparkler meets up with Fanny in Venice and is quite pleased to see her again. (Because, you know, she is a glorious girl, with no er-hrm nonsense about her!)
We now come to Fanny and Edmund--no, no, no, not THAT Fanny and Edmund. (Funny story: I watched Little Dorrit before I read Mansfield Park, and my sister and I got quite a laugh out of the fact that the main characters in MP were named Fanny and Edmund. We giggled immaturely all the way through the Mansfield Park movie.)
Fanny Dorrit is the eldest daughter of William Dorrit--snippy, money-grubbing, and alternately loving and angry. I can't quite tell what to make of her. Sometimes I hate her and wouldn't mind "landing a high kick right in her silly astonished face" but then sometimes I really feel for her. Fanny trained to be a music-hall dancer, (though her father's not supposed to know) so that she can support herself, and while she was performing she met a highly entertaining young personage bearing the name of Edmund Sparkler; commonly known as Sparkler-be-quiet.
|Sebastian Armesto as Edmund Sparkler, being tragic|
I have now made my way through most of the principal characters, and shall have to save the others (and my analysis of the costumes, music, scenery and Best Scenes and Quotes) for another post---hopefully tomorrow or early next week. For now, I leave you with the trailer. "I wish time would stand still and keep her as she is today... God has brought this child to my door... I know I am small, but I am quite grown up... She understood you were a--" Okay, I'll stop reciting it.
Also, before I close, I should mention that when we lived at Henley, Barnes' gander was stolen by tinkers. Have some toast.