I finished watching it a couple of days ago. I watched pretty much all of the second half of the series in one sitting. . . it's that hard to stop once you get pulled into this drama.
With scores of characters and inumerable plot twists and turns, it would be pointless to try to give a plot synopsis here. Besides, I wouldn't want to spoil anything for you if you haven't already seen Bleak House.
Mr. Smallbone (Phil Davis)
Adapted by Andrew Davies from yet another Dickens masterpiece, this marathon 8 1/2 hour, 15 part BBC series was hugely popular when it first aired in the UK in 2005. It garnered critical acclaim and high viewing figures in the UK, America, and here in Australia, too.
I'll try to outline some of my thoughts on the series:
*The cast is excellent. My favourites are Charles Dance as the villainous Mr. Tulkinghorn, and Phil Davis as "Shake-me-up-Judy" Mr. Smallweed, but every single member of the cast was absolutely outstanding.
Mr. Tulkinghorn (Charles Dance
*I found the camerawork a bit intrusive. It's bold, it's different, but it will cause the production to look dated in x years from now. The "whish-bang-CRASH" in between scenes got old pretty quickly.
*First-rate production values, as you would expect from a big-budget BBC period drama. Good costumes, good sets. . . there are countless details to pick up in nearly every frame. I think it's definitely a series that will reward a second (and third, and fourth, and fifth) viewing. There's also a nice score by John Lunn (who also composed the score for Lorna Doone, one of my favourite movie soundtracks).
Esther Summerson (Anna Maxwell Martin)
*I'm not always a big fan of Andrew Davies' adaptations, but I have to admit, he's a done a great job here. Each episode is well-balanced and fast-paced. And the story is not too hard to follow - you do have to pay attention, but it's not like Little Dorrit, where the finale left a lot of people (me included) scratching our heads.
I have to be honest - I don't like this series as much as Our Mutual Friend. Watching (and reading) OMF, I completely fell in love with the story and all of the characters. The storyline (I should say storylines, for there are many. . . ) of Bleak House are brilliantly conceived, but not as much to much my taste as Our Mutual Friend. Romance and biting social satire are what I love in my Victorian novels. The latter qualities are present in Bleak House, but not in such abundance as they are in Our Mutual Friend. And I thought the cast for Bleak House, good as it was, didn't have quite as much charisma as the cast from OMF.
Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson)
Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Bleak House, and it didn't take long for me to be completely drawn into the story. I would highly recommend this for any fan of any of the following: Dickens, BBC period dramas, or good TV drama in general.
Be warned: much of this series is quite dark in tone and subject matter. There are one or two scenes that are a bit gruesome, though nothing to warrant anything more than a PG rating. Just remember, this isn't Pride and Prejudice!
4.5 out of 5 stars. Oh, I feel so hard-hearted giving it only 4.5. . . alright, make that 5 out of 5!
+A brief overview of the DVD bonus features: I was a little disappointed here, to be honest. I bought the "special edition", I expected a bit more in the way of bonus material. There are three 15-minute interview with Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, and Denis Lawson. There is commentary available on several of the episodes, and there's a photo gallery. That's it.