Have always loved period dramas and adaptations from a relatively young age, and love and appreciate them even more as a young adult where plot points and themes are easier to understand and things that didn't quite catch my attention when younger makes them even more interesting now. There are disappointments out there, as adaptations and on their own terms, but there are many ones worth recommending or are a must watch, both for television and film.
Anybody who does try to adapt the work of Charles Dickens deserves brownie points for trying, regardless of how well it comes off (most have come off very well to brilliantly). Dickens is difficult 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 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 sixth and penultimate episode is every bit as wonderful as the previous five parts with the increasingly meaty storytelling and characterisation shining every bit as much and perhaps even more so.
One of the things that is so good is its atmosphere, done in a way that is very evocative. Perhaps 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 evocative, not too clean and the camera work never once shows its age. The music 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 even more importantly work on its own. 'Our Mutual Friend' (1976) does wonderfully at both. Again, it is very detailed and faithful in spirit. As well as intricate handled with dignity.
The dialogue is rich in flavour with intelligent handling of subtle comedy and heart-tugging pathos, and it is Dickensian all over. There is some slowness but considering the length of the book and how much story and characters are involved the more measured approach was necessary.
Excellent performances also help, and once again one gets them. It is not hard to go wrong with Leo McKern enjoying himself thoroughly. As does Warren Clarke, both chilling and heart-tugging, two adjectives that sound oxymoronic together but work. John McEnery's restraint and quiet authority resonates beautifully, one doesn't mind about any reservations of him being age-appropriate which proved to be an insignificant issue watching his performance. 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.
Nicholas Jones is touching in his particularly conflicted role while Jane Seymour plays the unpleasant and selfish character of Bella more than convincingly as well as making her somewhat attractive. Great support too from David Troughton and Ronald Lacey.
Altogether, wonderful penultimate part to as good an adaptation of 'Our Mutual Friend' as one can get. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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