Have always had a love for period dramas and adaptations from a relatively young age, would say about three quarters of my life. There are disappointments out there, as adaptations and on their own terms, but there are many classics, both for television and film.
Even if the adaptation didn't work, anybody who does try to adapt the work of Charles Dickens deserves brownie points for trying. Dickens is not easy to adapt, and the bigger and richer the book the more complicated it gets to adapt it. 'Our Mutual Friend', like 'Bleak House' (which is is even bigger), is one of those examples. And fortunately this 1976 adaptation is an example of Dickens being adapted very well, same goes for the 1998 adaptation.
The fifth episode is in no way a let down after four outstanding previous episodes, and actually indicative of the series getting better and better with more material and even more meat to the storytelling and characterisation.
One of the things that is so good is its atmosphere, done in a way that is both compellingly real and powerful. It is true that the 1998 adaptation has a better contrast between the rich and the poor, but the atmosphere there didn't quite feel as powerful as it did here. The costumes and sets are beautifully produced and natural, not too clean or stage-bound and the camera work is splendid and stylish throughout, never once showing its age. The music at the start is appropriately brooding, and from then on it really fits the atmosphere and moods of each scene, and if a scene needs an intimacy it's either used sparingly or not used at all.
For any film or TV series to adapt source material, it should not only be a solid adaptation (and this doesn't mean word for word, true in spirit works just as well) but work on its own too. 'Our Mutual Friend' (1976) does wonderfully at both. Again, it is very detailed and faithful in spirit. As well as told intricately and compellingly, with stately dignity.
The dialogue is rich in flavour with moments of elegant comedy and heartfelt tragedy, done in an intelligent way and it is Dickensian all over. As with other BBC adaptations from a similar period of Dickens' work, some slowness but considering the length of the book and that it is setting things up that is appropriate.
Excellent performances also help, and once again one gets them. It is not hard to go with Leo McKern and John McEnery's restraint and quiet authority more than compensates for that he is too old for the role. Lesley Dunlop is an appealing and appropriately honourable Lizzie, she doesn't play her as too meek like Dickens heroines can fall into the trap of being (to me how he wrote his female characters was Dickens' weak point).
Nicholas Jones has a conflicted character and portrays him very touchingly. Then there's Jane Seymour, who plays the unpleasant and selfish character of Bella more than convincingly as well as making her somewhat attractive, it does help that she is a beautiful woman and is still. Great support too from Joan Hickson, David Troughton and Ronald Lacey.
Altogether, wonderful. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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