Did we like it?
The cast, script and dialogue segue together like a star scooping up interstellar dust to form a life-giving, glaring sun. But the locations, so crucial in this Dickens novel, appeared a little sanitised and don’t reflect the scything satire of the novel – yet.
What was good about it?
• Matthew Macfadyen as Arthur Clennam. We can’t think of another actor who suppresses inner torment so well, and yet at the same time lets it spill uncontrollably over his face like a gushing fire hydrant. And there was plenty of repressed anguish for him to emote in this drama.
• As the son of the diabolical Mrs Clennam (a rasping Judy Parfitt), he is verbally whipped to within an inch of his dignity each time he intrudes upon her bleached mausoleum of a home, more so after he relinquishes his share of the family business upon returning home from China.
• Claire Foy as Amy Dorrit captures that most elusive and desired quality of any heroine from classical novels of being ostensibly as timid as milk but with a soul of iron. Here she beautifully conveyed her joy at serving the otherwise unforgiving Mrs Clennam in order to help pay off her father’s debt to liberate him from the Marshalsea.
• But with her father she is lucidly pulled apart by her fidelity to her father’s capricious moods and her duty as a daughter, and Foy is able to transmit the pathos of the character, making her an enthralling protagonist.
• Andrew Davies has woven together the initially disparate plot strands together with the common thread of imprisonment. Although we do have reservations about the relatively benign Marshalsea, it is worth noting that the portrayal may be attributed to his point that the physical imprisonment of William Dorrit (Tom Courtney) and infirmity of Mrs Clennam is preferable to the emotional incarceration endured by Arthur, Amy and by the hapless Tattycoram (Freema Agyeman), who is treated as with cloying patronage by Mr Meagles (Bill Paterson).
• The prisons also represent the complacency and indolence of William Dorrit and Mrs Clennam. As each falls into societal obsolescence, they are reluctant to leave the comfortable but confining environs of their home, resembling surly crocodiles in their lair, snapping irascibly at anyone who wanders past trying to drag them into their twilight world.
What was bad about it?
• Locations in Little Dorrit are more important than in many of Dickens’ other masterpieces. We haven’t seen the brutally satirical Bleeding Heart Yard or the Circumlocution Office yet, but we hope that they haven’t been blunted by the slightly sterilised impression of Victorian London.
• The Marshalsea prison might well be serving some other metaphorical purpose than simply being a jail, but it far more resembled one of those slightly dusty cruise liners where old people go to die sailing aimlessly around the globe as they chatter frenetically to one another about how they’ve always wanted to visit Calcutta, Rio De Janeiro or Miami in the hope of giving their lives some meaning other than continually glancing at their watch before they are interred.
• The Marshalsea, like much of London, was far too clean. Even in Mrs Clennam’s shop, which was shrouded in dusky browns and murky dust, the shadows looked as if they’d been scrubbed clean with Ajax not ten minutes’ before.