If you’re one of the troublingly few people who watched Dickensian during its run on BBC One over the last couple of months, you’ll know how difficult a task it was. And if you’re one of the many who didn’t, then you may not have had much choice in that matter. Why? Because Dickensian was thrown around the schedule by the BBC with such disrespect and lack of care that it seems like they wanted it to fail. Out now on DVD, is there any reason why this could be? Or are the BBC just a bunch of fools?
Dickensian, created by Tony Jordan, is a 20-part labour of love. Intricately plotted, the series brings together countless iconic Dickens characters and puts them in one big story together – serving as a prequel to almost any of the Dickens novels. In this universe, Inspector Bucket comes to London to investigate the ‘murder’ of Jacob Marley, Ebeneezer Scrooge’s business partner from A Christmas Carol. During his investigation he meets the Barbary’s of Bleak House, the Havisham’s of Great Expectations, the thieves and criminals of Oliver Twist, and any other Dickens character you can think of. But it’s not just about his murder investigation. No, Dickensian has been labelled a soap and it’s easy to see why – we also see romance and relationships grow and fall apart, business carried out and generally just the day-to-day life of Dickens’ most iconic characters. I know what you’re thinking – a Dickens mash-up sounds great! But it must be bad if the BBC scheduled it so erratically with little marketing and no care, right?
Wrong! Dickensian is the best thing the BBC have put on TV in years, as well as being one of the finest British TV programmes in recent memory. This is down to a number of factors. Firstly, the production values across the board are astonishing. Taking place mostly on the streets in a beautiful, enormous, lovingly-crafted set of Victorian London, Dickensian is a visual feast. Countless characters and extras walk these streets in stunning costume, while each and every shop-front is designed to perfection. Interiors are a marvel too, from high society homes to Fagin’s den, making for one of the most lavish productions in recent years with mind-blowing attention to detail. The cast are incredible throughout, with special mention in particular for Stephen Rea who steals every scene he’s in as the charming Inspector Bucket. Ned Dennehy and Anton Lesser are perfect as Scrooge and Fagin respectively, while newcomer Joseph Quinn puts in an incredible performance as the troubled Arthur Havisham. But with a cast of characters spanning about 10 books, it’s impossible to mention them all. Put it this way, nobody in Dickensian is bad. The finest ensemble cast I’ve seen in a long time.
But the best thing about Dickensian, although some purists might see it as an offensive move, is the way these characters all weave in and out of each other. The show is an utter delight for literary buffs, who will delight in seeing Scrooge and Fagin discussing business almost as much as comic-book fans enjoy seeing Iron Man and Thor fight side-by-side in The Avengers. The writing is impeccable in each of the 20 episodes, delivered in a serial storytelling style that isn’t far from how Dickens originally published his stories in short instalments with cliff-hanger endings. All plot-lines are interesting and very rarely drag, with the exception of those few that are clearly heading towards a certain plot-point over multiple episodes. And the closing moments of the final episode will bring chills, as we finally see our beloved novels beginning after what is essentially a 20-part prequel to the Dickens universe. Some have complained that ‘Dickens wouldn’t have liked this’, but I’m sure he’d be delighted that people are still affectionately creating stories around his characters almost 150 years after his death.
With this in mind, it is truly a crime how the BBC treated Dickensian. After beginning on Boxing Day last year in a great timeslot, the show became increasingly erratic in its scheduling and didn’t seem to follow any sort of pattern, with little warning of when it would be on. Maybe the BBC wanted it to fail so they wouldn’t have to make a second series – the first must’ve been an enormous undertaking. But it’s paid off. This is what television is all about. Dickensian grabbed me in the first minute and didn’t let go until the last, and I loved every second of it. Unfortunately the BBC cancelled the series and any chance of a second season due to ‘bad ratings’ - I wonder why that is. But hey, I wouldn’t rule out another author mash-up. Austensian, perhaps? Time will tell. Dickensian is an utter delight from start to finish. Lavishly made, incredibly written and fantastically performed.
I cannot recommend it enough. 5/5.
Dickensian at CeX
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