Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Not So Bleak

My problem, and I admit that it is a personal one, with television lies in the matter of choice. If I feel like reading a book, I can go and browse the bookshelves, select the volume I fancy and sit and read it in my own time and at my own pace. But the television, that hideous cyclops that invades every home, offers no such choice. It dictates the time and, even worse, the content that you view. Aside from the fact that the content seems, for the most part, to have been assembled by a sub-moronic committee striving to find a topic that will appeal to the most intellectually challenged members of the population, the idea that one must organise life to the calendar and clock of a television station is ludicrous. In many homes, mealtimes had to be re-arranged and I well remember the first insult to gastronomy that resulted, the TV dinner, the legacy of which still lingers unpleasantly on the taste buds and in the micro-waves of many homes.

However, all is not dross, and it was with great pleasure that I found that Santa Claus, in his infinite wisdom, had contrived to leave a few DVD’s under our tree this year. Since this handy device, and its predecessor, the VHS tape, negate most of my objections listed above, I spent much of the holiday happily viewing the BBC’s adaptation of Charles Dicken’s “Bleak House.”

Adaptations of books are tricky at the best of times and much of my interest lay in seeing just how well Andrew Davies had contrived to wedge this unwieldy and complex book onto the cramped confines of a television screen. He succeeded brilliantly in my opinion.

The first time I tried to read Bleak House was many years ago and I recall finding myself struggling through the complex and convoluted plot. It took several readings before I came to appreciate the work and I found the solution was to read it as it had been written – by instalments. The magic of the BBC production to me is that the storyline has been clarified and that characters are depicted almost exactly as Dickens had painted them in my mind. The casting was undoubtedly helped by the minuteness of the author’s observations.

Clearly much has been lost, but the essential spirit (and mystery) of the book has been maintained with the dialogue remaining totally Dickensian. You just can’t improve on it.

My hope is that many who may have been put off by the title in the past, will now turn to the book and enjoy all the subtleties that had to be omitted from the film. Dickens, to my mind, never was one for a snappy title; Hard Times and Bleak House being two of the least appealing but, as a character says “It’s not a Bleak House at all.”

And then they will find the added delights of details of the Jellyby household and of that model of deportment, Mr. Turveydrop, details of which, plus many others, that have, of necessity, had to be omitted.


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