Friday, February 10, 2012

Bleak House (2005) Review

"Shake me up, Judy!"
~Mr. Smallweed, Bleak House (2005)

My family absolutely loves to quote movies.  It's a rare day in our household that goes by without someone quipping, "Why do I not have a surprised feeling?" or "I'm packing your angry eyes, just in case!" or "Sparkler, be quiet!" or even "My name is Inigo Montoya.   You killed my father.  Prepare to DIE." 

There are lots of movies that have really definitive quotes, quotes that when spoken immediately make everyone who's seen the movie light up in recognition.  I wouldn't be surprised if most of you laughed and nodded when you read the first line of this post.  Charles Dickens' Bleak House might not be the most quotable film ever (actually, as far as Dickens films go, it doesn't have very many memorable quotes) but nobody forgets "Shake me up, Judy!".

I read Bleak House in the fall of 2010--a good friend had recommended it after she heard how much I had liked Little Dorrit.  Thinking I was in for a dreary, depressing story, I picked up the 700-page novel with some trepidation, but I ended up loving it.  Esther Summerson, John Jarndyce, Mr. Guppy, Harold Skimpole, Lady Dedlock, Richard Carstone all leaped off the page at me and left me anxious to see them on the screen. (Because when I read a good book, my usual reaction when it's over is, "Is there a good movie? I MUST SEE IT.") 

My parents watched Bleak House in January or February of 2011, and then in the summer I watched it with Anne-girl.  We thoroughly enjoyed it--not as much as Little Dorrit, because nothin' compares with LD--but it was wonderful in its own way.

Anna Maxwell Martin as Esther Summerson
Dickens is famous for his legions of memorable, colorful characters, and Bleak House is no exception.  Featuring a heroine who is second only to Amy Dorrit in my list of favorite Dickens ladies, Bleak House refutes the idea that Charles Dickens never wrote about women who were anything other than simpering angels.  Esther Summerson is a heroine in every sense of the word (but not in the sense that she's just the girl who marries the hero--because *SPOILER ALERT* she doesn't. *END OF SPOILER*)  Played to perfection by lovely Anna Maxwell Martin, Esther combines gentleness and grace with great strength of character and selflessness.
Esther and Denis Lawson as Mr. Jarndyce
Denis Lawson plays kind Mr. Jarndyce, the real hero of the story.  He doesn't look at all the way I imagined Mr. Jarndyce while reading the book, but I quickly got used to his appearance (as I almost always do).  If you'd like to read more about Mr. Jarndyce's character, go to this post.  I really enjoyed seeing how all the characters interacted with each other in this miniseries--in the case of Mr. Jarndyce and Esther especially, I frequently forgot that I was watching a movie.  It was as if they were standing right there in the room with me, which is, I think, the test of good acting.  Everything felt so real.  

Esther with Carey Mulligan as Ada Clare
Carey Mulligan gives a brilliant performance as sweet, slightly spoiled young Ada Clare--and I have to say, I liked her much better in this role than as the shallow, silly Kitty Bennet of Pride and Prejudice 2005.  She looks exactly the way I pictured Ada, and she plays the character of a naive young girl without being annoying or overly silly.  Ada isn't technically an admirable character (unless you count that she stuck by Richard no matter what--but I would call that foolishness, personally) but she's very sweet and one can't help liking her.  Plus, she has the best clothes of anyone in the movie and that gives her instant Miss Dashwood Points.

Esther and Ada's friendship was another of those elements that just felt so real.  The way they giggled together and confided in each other and teased each other a bit was sweet and fun, and I think this was one of the ways that the movie was a little better than the book.  In the book, you know that Esther and Ada are friends, but their friendship is seen less as a relationship of equal standing and more as an employer/employee thing.  Esther is Ada's companion, after all.  But I liked it better in the movie. ;)

Burn Gorman as Mr. Guppy of Kenge and Carboysh
Since I am rather randomly skipping about from character to character, I now find myself ready to address my angel--er, Mr. Guppy.  (Not my angel.  Just for the record.  He's Esther's angel.  Er, she's HIS angel.  Whatever. I'm getting muddled.)  Burn Gorman is an absolutely hilarious version of the love-struck young lawyer ("of Kenge and Carboysh") who moons about after Esther like a [insert overused cliche here].  From a purely analytic point of view (and mine is anything but, haha) his character seems quite similar to that of John Chivery in Little Dorrit, but there's one big difference.  Whereas John's story is sad and tear-jerking--and you feel so sorry for him at the end--Mr. Guppy's is just funny.  Especially in the scene where he first proposes to Esther.  Sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up, adjust coattails, sit down--ooh, here's Miss Summerson! Stand up! My sister and I always get a big kick out of that scene, especially when he nervously offers her "some refreshment" in her OWN house. :P
Patrick Kennedy as Richard Carstone with Ada

In the book, Richard and Ada's relationship annoyed me to no end.  Well, okay, let me rephrase that--RICHARD annoyed me to no end.  The guy has almost everything he could ever want--a kind and devoted guardian, a good education, great opportunities and a gorgeous girlfriend (alliteration much?) yet he chooses to throw most of this away and waste his time on that everlasting Chancery case. Badly done, Richard.  Badly done.

Ada, on the other hand, isn't so bad--actually, I feel quite sorry for her.  If only she'd had a little more backbone, and had been able to tell Richard, "Look, we aren't getting married until you get your act together." But of course he never did get his act together, and all right, all right, I'll admit I was quite sad when Richard *SPOILER ALERT* died. *END OF SPOILER*

Oh, and while we're on the subject, am I seriously the only one who thinks that there's a resemblance between Richard (Patrick Kennedy) and Marius Pontmercy (Michael Ball)? It's not just the hair and the collar--they really do look alike.

See? Told ya.
Speaking of Characters Who Really Annoy Me....

Harold Skimpole.  Nathaniel Parker plays him to a T.  I would like to land a high kick right in his silly astonished face.  'Nuff said.

Skimpole: "But after all I'm nothing but a child..."
Cough, cough.  Moving on...

Alun Armstrong as Inspector Bucket
Charles Dance plays an amazingly evil Mr. Tulkinghorn.  I shuddered every time he came on screen... (but in a good way, not the way I shuddered during the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert every time Nick Jonas came onscreen).  Ahem.  Losing the topic here... I think Mr. Dance would actually make an excellent Scrooge if someone were to adapt A Christmas Carol for the umpteenth time.   Alun Armstrong (you may also know him as Jeremiah Flintwinch and Daniel Pegotty, and I sincerely hope you know him as M. Thenardier) is a fabulous Inspector Bucket.  On the outside, he seems greasy and gross, but as the story progresses and you get to know the Inspector better, he's really quite a likeable fellow. (Despite the scary sideburns.)

Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock
When I read the book, I wasn't particularly impressed by Lady Honoria Dedlock... but then I saw Gillian Anderson in the role and I was blown away.  I could devote a whole post to this tragically beautiful, mentally tortured woman who made such mistakes in her youth.... *melodramatic music* Without giving anything away, let me just say that a certain scene in which Lady Dedlock tells a certain character a certain secret and reveals that she and this certain character are Rather Closely Related in a certain way.... wow.  Tearjerker moment if I ever saw one, and I've seen plenty.  Also, I adore her ladyship's hair.  If anyone knows how to do it that way, e-mail me the step-by-step instructions ASAP.  Please.

Lady Dedlock's hair might have been gorgous, but
Esther's (at least near the end of the movie) left something
to be desired, IMHO

Richard Harrington does a great job of portraying Allan Woodcourt's humility, loyalty and general all-around-nice-guy-ness, but the fact remains that Allan just doesn't hold a candle to Mr. Jarndyce.  I am really trying desperately hard to keep from spoiling the story for all of you who haven't seen it... but if you read my guest post at Miss Laurie's blog, you already know that Esther marries Allan and not Mr. Jarndyce, right? (And if you didn't, you do now.  Sorry...)  But despite the fact that I feel so very bad for poor, selfless Mr. Jarndyce, I can't help being happy at seeing Esther and Allan together.  I still maintain that Mr. Jarndyce is The Better Man (and since Allan's great, that's saying a lot!) but Esther and "the handsome young surgeon" (as Dickens constantly calls him in the book) simply belong together.

And then of course there are all the minor characters, because what would a Dickens story be without at least eight hundred minor characters?  Miss Flite (awww), Mr. Krook (ewww), Mr. Nemo (must find him!), Mr. Kenge (but where's Mr. Carboy?), Sergeant George (yay!), Mrs. Rouncewell (yay again!), Jo (aww), Caddy Jellyby (poor thing), Mr. Turveydrop (I feel a high kick coming on), Mr. Smallweed (just... ew...) and of course the infamous Judy (shake me up!).  They're all amazing.  Oh, and I forgot Hortense.  She's glaring at me.  "You stupid woman!"

As far as intrigue, dastardly deeds, suspense and cliffhangers go, this movie has it all.  At first, I was afraid it might be too creepy (the first episode certainly seems dark enough) but by the end, I was loving it.  Actually, by the second episode, I was loving it.  The theme music, though not as memorable as Little Dorrit's (composed by the same composer, incidentally) was good, but I was rather annoyed by the spooky whooshing in between scenes.  It got old very fast.

Other things I didn't like... well, there really wasn't much.  Mr. Krook's death is beyond gross (and pretty crazy---I mean, I know medical science has come a long way since the Victorian era, but it's hard to believe that people really thought such things could happen) but thankfully the Big Murder Scene (duhn-duhn-duhn!) is not shown.  Overall, I'd say there's actually less blood and gore than there was in Little Dorrit.  (This is a good thing, in case you were wondering.)

On the whole, I would give Bleak House eight stars out of ten.  It was captivating, it was interesting, it was sad, it was funny, it was Charles-J.-H.-Dickens-need-we-say-more?.  

Also, it had one of the best wedding scenes ever, in the history of the whole entire world. And since I'm a sucker for good weddings, I would have forgiven the rest of the movie for being blah (if it were blah.  Which it is not).

In the end, all I can say is that you will be anything but bored to death with it.  Judy? Shake me up!


Melody said...

Weelll, I love Esther's hair in the first half. When she changes the But I liked it in the first half; it reminded me a bit of Margaret Hale's in N&S, and I've tried to copy it a couple times.

Okay, I'm commenting out of order. Oh well.

Haha, BH is so fun to quote, even if it doesn't have as many quotables as LD, etc; especially Shake Me Up. Another one of our favorites is Richard's "I'm sorry I'm not the thing."

I'd say, since Esther didn't marry Mr. J, then he's not the hero. More's the pity. I suppose we all have our own 'umble Opinions about what makes a hero or heroine, I suppose. Some people, when I say 'hero' the'll picture Superman or something... I'm like "No no no. Male Main Character. Or guy who ends up marrying the Female Main Character." Or thinking that a 'villain' has to want to destroy the world.
Some people just don't get it.
Okay, that was a rabbit trail. Ahem. Soary about that.

Haha, I call sticking my Richard no matter what foolishness, as well.
Is it wrong that I wasn't very sad when he died? I mean, I was really sad for Ader and all, and it was a sad scene in general, but...

Mr. Guppy person was creepy on the Larkrise episode, too. Did I tell you that? I can't recall...
Haha, don't you love the part where Mrs. Guppy tells them to "get out!!"
"I think it's hardly reasonable for you to ask us to get out of our own house, Mrs. Guppy."
(or whatever he said), haha.

Oh good! Richard annoys you too! I'm so pleased.
"Badly done"--yes indeed. (Don't you love how Emma says that about Frank on the 2009 version?)

No no! You're supposed to land a high kick in his silly childish face, remember? >:D
Haha, remind me to tell you another one of my famous boring stories that has to do with Mr. Skimpole. (And let's hope I won't go "what are you talking about??")

I seriously think Alun Armstrong must tell his agent to keep an eye out for Charles Dickens movies. Little Dorrit, Bleak House, David Copperfield, two versions of Oliver twist, and now he's that Edwin Drood movie...
Okay, so what's this 25th anniversary one that you sincerely hope we know about? That's not the one you told me to watch, is it?

Your opinions on Jarndyce vs. Woodcourt are almost identical to my own.
Another 'yay' from me. ;-)

Some family member of mine looked up Spontaneous Combustion in the dictionary and it said something about Charles Dickens's Bleak House. hahaha!

My sister and I had a Bleak House Marathon for her birthday, when we watched a lot of it in the night, more of it in the morning, and then the rest of it the next day...or something like that....
All 8 hours.
It was kind of cool. ;-)
In between having snacks and playing games.

Oh dear! What a long comment this has become! Well, I shall hurry myself off now and do what I'm supposed to be doing.

Diana said...

I first watched Bleak House when it initially aired on tv. Waiting a whole week for a new installment was so torturous!

As much as I love Mr. Jarndyce, I adore Esther and Mr. Woodcourt as a couple. Still, I wish Mr. Jarndyce had gotten a happier ending for himself. *sigh*

Alexandra said...

Ok, I'm dying...I'm glad we're not the only ones who have nicknamed this movie "Finding Nemo". :-D

My brothers and I watched this miniseries over a two week period about...oh, three years ago, I think, an episode every night (well, maybe two occasionally :-P), and some really good memories. In the end IDthink they really cared for it - my one brother's like, everyone died in the end! I, on the other hand, adored it...the book was one of my favorite Dickens. :-)But despite their final verdict, along the way we had a blast. :-)

I adore Mr. Jarndyce to bitsy-bits. Every time he comes on I go, awwwwwwww!!! :-) And "my angel" is one of those quotes we always use. Esther is an awesome heroine (but then Anna Maxwell Martin has become one of my fave actresses...she's soooo good in everything I've seen her in!), and I adored Carey Mulligan in this! Could say sooo much about this...oh, Charles Dance is BRILLIANT as Mr. Tulkinghorn. ADORE his performance. Simply amazing.

IDK if you've seen The Secret Garden from the 90's with Maggie Smith in it...but Mr. Nemo plays Colin's father in it. (Highly recommend it, BTW, if you haven't) So we were all like, oh, hello! :-)

Anyway. LOVE your review!

Lauren said...

Richard nearly drove my mom and I crazy! We were kind of horrible and kept saying, "he really just needs to die soon." Badly done indeed Richard. Enjoyed your review! And I quite agree. What Dickens does compare with Little Dorrit?

Miss Dashwood said...

Oh, me too. Her hair is gorgeous at first (like in Miss Laurie's header--I really like it there) and at the wedding, but with the smallpox it was... ugly. I realize that the wings on the side were probably an attempt to hide some of her scars, but she looked like a dog with floppy ears, I thought. :P

Soary about that? Hahahahaha!

You're right, I was more sorry for Ader (heehee) than for Richard when he died. But in the book it was quite the heartwrenching scene.

Tell me your famous boring story about Harold Skimpole. There, I reminded you. ;)

Alun Armstrong is a huge Dickens fan and has been ever since he was in grade school. I forget where I read that, though.

Nuh-uh, I didn't say I sincerely hoped you knew about the 25th anniversary... I just said that I sincerely hoped you knew he was in Les Miz. Which he was... in the 10th Anniversary... which is the one I said you should watch. Not that I'm bossy or anything. If you be still confused, shoot me an e-mail and I'll try to straighten it out. ;)

This is becoming a comment of ridiculous proportions... haha, I should stop now.

Miss Dashwood said...

Wow, that must have been so suspenseful! My sister and I watched an average of two episodes per night, every night for over a week. It was so hard to turn it off and go to bed!
I wish Mr. Jarndyce had had a happy ending too... sigh. But you know, he got so much happiness out of doing for others that I think he really DID have a happy ending, even if it wasn't the fairy-tale kind.

Really?? You caught my Nemo joke! Hooray! You haven't read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by any chance, have you?

Haha, "everyone died in the end". That was my youngest sister's reaction when I summarized Les Miz for her. :P Anna Maxwell Martin is indeed a superb actress--I'd love to see her in other movies.

I have indeed seen The Secret Garden with Maggie Smith (best adaptation of that book ever, except for the weird magic bit) but I had no idea that Mr. Nemo played Colin's father! What's funny is that when Anne and I saw him on Bleak House, we kept saying, "why does he look familiar?" Ha!

Nothing compares with Little Dorrit. Although I have to say that book-wise, David Copperfield is coming reallllllly close.

Melody said...

Yes, you know, 'sorry' with a Canadian accent. ;-)

Heart-wrenching... is such a good word.

That's neat, about Alun Armstrong. =)

No no, the story isn't famous and boring, I just meant that I am famous for telling boring stories. To you, anyways. haha Because they usually relate to my family and take a little explaining and so by that time you're bored. :P

Well, see, I looked it up on IMDb to see who he played (and I thought, it has to be Les Miserables...) and it said 25th Anniversary Concert. :P See for thyself:

Miss Dashwood said...

Haha, you mean "sorry" with a Gilbert Blythe accent.
I am NEVER bored by your stories.
Okay, so I followed the link... haha, IMDB isn't always completely accurate. He was in the 25th Anniversary, yes, but only at the end when they brought the original 1985 London cast up on stage to sing an encore. So he's credited for that. Unfortunately IMDB doesn't list his work in the 10th Anniversary Les Miz, but trust me, he's in there. The reason IMDB doesn't list him as being in the 10th Anniversary is because the epic (haha) 10th Anniversary video isn't on IMDB. OH THE HUMANITY OF IT ALL.

Melody said...

Well, it's more than Gilbert Blythe who says it that way. In fact, a friend of mine visited Canada and a hotel person said it, and she was quite amused. ;-)
Really? That's good. I must say I am surprised.
Well, now you know I'm not crazy, anyways. :P I did say that for a reason, etc. haha

Jemimah C. said...

The more I read reviews on Bleak House 2005, the more I want to see it!

Alexandra said...

I haven't read 20,000 Leagues, but I've seen the Disney version.

You're kidding...10th Les Miz isn't on IMDB? The shame of it...

Ella said...

I am watching Bleak house and enjoying it.

Hayden said...

Wonderful review- "Judy, Shake me up!" has become one of the most quoted lines in our house! "My angel" is also mentioned often... Mr. Guppy is just one of those weird creepy but hilarious characters you always remember and randomly quote.

And that scene where Lady Deadlock tells Esther everything is so sweet and sad and perfect.

Mr. Jarndyce was amazing. I'm glad Esther married Mr. Woodcourt- really, I am!- but poor Mr. Jarndyce! He's so honest and kind and self-sacrificing and SOMEONE should have married him!!!

Haha. Finding Nemo...that did cross my mind as we were watching the movie but I forgot about it and now you've just reminded me and I am pausing a moment to take the time to laugh.


Okay, I'm good :)

Melody said...

Ooh, another one my sister and I like to quote is when Bucket demanded that Smallweed give him whatever he just hid.
"'and it over."
"'Shan't'? Do you 'appen to know why the pig was killed? --On account of his having too much cheek."

Rissi said...

LOVE this masterful miniseries. I started it about a month ago because I wrote a piece on Esther for an on-line webzine I write for but I only got through about thirty minutes of part 1 because my article was due. Needless to say, I should watch it again sometime.