Friday, January 6, 2012

Little Dorrit (2008) Review, Part One

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
To anyone looking at pictures from this film, or even watching the trailer with no prior knowledge of the story, it would seem to be a dark and hopeless tale of... darkness.  And, in a way, it is... but it's so much more than that.  It's dark, yes, but it's light too and if it weren't dark in some places the light wouldn't be visible.  (Profound, no? : D)  I think the real test of whether a movie is good or not is the feeling it leaves you with.  Little Dorrit leaves me happy... blissfully, unashamedly, tearfully happy and that, I believe, may be why I love it so much.
Claire Foy as Amy Dorrit
Okay, enough rambling.  Let's get down to the basics.  I've been hesitant in writing this review because I'm not sure I can do justice to Little Dorrit (LD).  I know several of you haven't yet seen it, and I want so badly to communicate to you my love for this movie, without spoiling it for you.  Please bear with me.  I have so much to say (heh, when do I not?) that I think I'll be splitting this review into two parts.  I'll try not to include too many spoilers, but when something is absolutely necessary I'll give you advance notice.

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
The title character, Amy Dorrit (known as Little Dorrit), is gentle and shy with hidden strengths. She's sweet and endearing in the book, but her character is far more developed in the movie, played to gentle perfection by Claire Foy. She's in love with Arthur Clennam (who is fifteen years her senior), and he is totally oblivious of this fact.  She was born and bred in the Marshalsea Debtor's Prison (of which her father is an inmate). Her whole life is wrapped up in loving, caring for and trying to please her family. Unwittingly, she often embarrasses them by her simple and unassuming ways.  Amy will soon figure in my Period Drama Heroines series, so I'll leave her at that for now.

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...

Arthur with Pancks (Eddie Marsden)
...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.

Russell Tovey as John Chivery
Speaking of endearing, we now come to John Chivery, assistant turnkey at the Marshalsea Prison, another character who is a thousand times better in the movie than in the book. He's been in love with Little Dorrit since they were children, and he'd do anything for her. Even fling himself off the bridge if it would give her a moment's joy.  He's fond of composing his own epitaph and can tend to be a little morbid. ("Here lie the mortal remains of John Chivery...") Let's just say that the scene where Amy rejects his proposal (episode four) is one of the most tear-jerking ever. John declares that he will die of a broken heart, but he's stronger than that. So.  Much.  Stronger.  *sniff* (just wait until the last episode, trust me... okay, I need a tissue.)

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.

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.) 
Emma Pierson as Fanny Dorrit
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
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!)

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.


Stephanie said...

I am generally against Dickens, but only because he is a rather dreary author. (I read the plot in full online before even attempting to open a book of his.) I cannot stand sad endings.
Anyway, despite my general feelings for Dickens, this looks like worth watching and reading.

Miss Dashwood said...

Stephanie, I don't like sad endings either, but the ending to this movie is just so happy-full. :) I love it.
Of course, I happen to be a Dickens fan, so I'm speaking from a slightly biased perspective.

Melody said...

I can't abide sad endings. But actually, many of Dicken's endings are completely happy. This one, Bleak House (well, I wasn't exactly satisfied with it, but it WAS happy), Our Mutual Friend, Nicholas Nickleby... you just have to choose the right ones, but Dickens can be REALLY good with endings. =)

Miss Dashwood,
I had to laugh at the 'Part 1'. ;-) I'm glad I could watch this "with you". It was fun. =)
I've never seen that trailer! But...I still like THIS one better...

Miss Dashwood said...

Ooh, I like that trailer too... but I actually prefer mine because it doesn't have creepy Rigaud in it. :P
And I'm glad my "part 1" amused you--I won't do 14 parts (though I'd love to...) but I couldn't fit it all into 1. I so enjoyed watching it "with you" too!

Melody said...

Ugh, I like Rigaud as little as you do...but just the same, he does have a very big part in the movie. :P

Lauren said...

I love this movie so much! I read the book after I saw the movie, and liked it a lot as well, but I think I may agree with you that the movie is better...I am not much of a judge, though, since I saw the movie first!

Miss Dashwood said...

Yes, I couldn't exactly leave him out... and sometimes he IS funny. :P

Heehee, usually when I read a book first I like the book better, but when I watch a movie first I often like the movie better! I suppose I "frequently allow myself to be blinded by prejudice." First impressions and all that, you know. ;)

Hayden said...

I love this movie so much. Like you, I can't pick a particular scene that makes me love this movie; you have to take Little Dorrit as a whole. And yes, I do agree I think the movie is better than the book- the characters just seem better developed.

The ending makes me so mushy inside I get ashamed. Okay, not really ashamed, exactly....but let's just say I have a ridiculously gooey smile on my face for at least an hour after watching that last episode. :)

Edmund Sparkler! ha! He's hilarious! My brother likes imitate his pout. "It's not fair!" :) I never before noticed that Edmund and Fanny had the same names as, well, Edmund and Fanny. heehee.

Emily said...

I love this movie. So much. Really. I love it. I actually got the book for Christmas, though I haven't read it yet (It's a bit intimidating with it's 852 pages!) :)

Sarah said...

I am also a Dickens fan-and I've read this book and LOVED it- so I must see the miniseries. And, I really enjoy reading your blog-keep up the reviews, they're very good!

Miss Dashwood said...

I'm the same way... the ending leaves me melted into a puddle. I am SO wearing purple when I get married. :)
Ha, your brother's pout sounds funny! Anne and I love to do the Fanny and Edmund thing at the end:
"Yes, my dearest love?"
"Be quiet!"

My sister got the book for Christmas, too. I would highly recommend reading it, it's SO good.
Thanks for stopping by!

Why, thank you! You may have noticed some of my enthusiasm for this movie through this post... I heartily recommend it.

The Mad Elvish Poet said...

I'm hacking my way through the book because I adored the movie so much. "All the time I was breaking my heart over her, and she was breaking her heart over you!" *dissolves into puddle of romantic mush* I hope that line's in the book...

Kristalyn Huber said...

This is one of my all time favorites! Is Arthur really 15 years older than Amy? When I read Wikipedia I got the impression they were only a couple years apart.

Miss Elliot said...

Here's a link to some bloopers I found for this movie. Fortuanatly, they edited out all swear words. Sir, Madam, you don't have to swear if you make a mistake. There are plenty of other words to use. Just thought I'd tell you.

I haven't seen this movie yet, but I hope to. And whatever anyone may say, I think Matthew Macfayden did well as Mr. Darcy in P&P2005 (he seems to be the only one in P&P05 who actually fits the time period) and he looks marvellous as Arther Clenham (is that the right name? I closed down the YAPDB to get the bloopers link and I so I can't see the review.). Cheerio!