Little Dorrit (TV series)
Cover of the BBC DVD release
|Written by||Andrew Davies
Based on the novel by Charles Dickens
|Directed by||Adam Smith (6 episodes)
Dearbhla Walsh (5 episodes)
Diarmuid Lawrence (3 episodes)
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||14|
|Executive producer(s)||Rebecca Eaton
|Running time||452 minutes|
|Original channel||BBC One|
|Original run||26 October – 11 December 2008|
Little Dorrit is a 2008 British miniseries based on the serial novel of the same title by Charles Dickens, originally published between 1855 and 1857. The screenplay is by Andrew Davies and the episodes were directed by Adam Smith, Dearbhla Walsh, and Diarmuid Lawrence.
The series was a joint production of the BBC and the American PBS member station WGBH Boston. It originally was broadcast by BBC One and BBC HD, beginning on 26 October 2008 with a 60-minute opening episode, followed by 12 half-hour episodes and a 60-minute finale. In the United States, it aired in five episodes as part of PBS' Masterpiece series between 29 March and 26 April 2009. In Australia, episodes were combined into seven-parts on ABC1 each Sunday at 8:30pm from 27 June 2010 and has since been repeated on UKTV.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (August 2010)|
Since her birth, twenty-one-year-old Amy Dorrit has lived in the Marshalsea Prison for Debt, where she cares for her father William, who is held in great esteem by the other inmates. To help financially assist her family, she works as a seamstress for Mrs. Clennam, a semi-invalid who is confined to her crumbling home with her servants, the sinister Jeremiah Flintwinch and his bumbling wife Affery.
Arthur Clennam returns from China with his father's pocket watch and delivers it to Mrs. Clennam, as Mr. Clennam's dying wish was for the watch to go to Arthur's mother. Arthur becomes reacquainted with his former childhood sweetheart, the now overweight widow Flora Finching, who hopes to rekindle the affection the couple shared before they were separated by their disapproving parents. However, he is enamoured with Pet Meagles, who favours ne'er-do-well aspiring artist Henry Gowan, much to the distress of her parents. Meanwhile, in Marseille, murderer Rigaud and his timid cell-mate Jean-Baptiste Cavaletto separately are released from jail, and Cavaletto makes plans to journey to England.
Arthur soon befriends Amy, whose deep friendly affection for him strengthens and grows into romance as John Chivery, who oversees the Marshalsea entrance with his father, watches in dismay, as he is truly, madly, strongly head-over-heels in love with the girl.
Arthur's father's dying words lead him to believe his family may have been responsible for the Dorrits' misfortunes, resulting in Mr. Dorrit being imprisoned without just cause. He asks rent collector and amateur detective Mr. Pancks to investigate the situation. He then visits the Meagles family in their rural home, where he is intrigued by their servant, the orphaned black girl Tattycoram, and her odd relationship with the mysterious Miss Wade.
John Chivery proposes to Amy, who gently declines his offer, upsetting her father, who fears a rift in their father-daughter relationship will affect his favored position in the prison. Arthur, unaware how much Amy really likes and cares for him, realizes Pet Meagles prefers rival suitor Henry Gowan to him. Through her parents, he meets inventor and engineer Daniel Doyce, and the two men decide to become business partners.
Cavalletto arrives in London and discovers he's been followed by Rigaud, who meets Ephraim Flintwinch, Jeremiah's twin brother, in a tavern. The man has in his possession a box containing Mrs. Clennam's secret papers, which she had ordered her servant to burn but he had given to Ephraim for safekeeping instead. Rigaud suspects the contents of the box are valuable and, after plying Ephraim with drink, he leads him to a deserted passageway, where he murders him and confiscates the box.
Amy's older sister, Fanny, brings her to visit Mrs. Merdle, the wife of a wealthy investor and the mother of her ardent admirer, Edmund Sparkler. Mrs. Merdle disapproves of Fanny's career as a music hall entertainer and offers her a gold bracelet and new dresses to leave her son alone.
Mr. Pancks continues to investigate the connection between the Dorrits and the Clennams, prompting Amy to become suspicious. Cavaletto, fearfully running away from Rigaud, who has changed his name to Blandois, is knocked down by a horse and treated by the impoverished Plornish family, who offer him accommodations. Cavaletto eventually finds employment with Arthur and Daniel Doyce in their factory in the Bleeding Heart Yard.
Arthur proposes to Pet, who sadly announces she is marrying Henry Gowan. Tattycoram, tired of taking orders from the Meagles family, leaves them and finds shelter with Miss Wade.
Blandois visits Mrs. Clennam. Although he does not reveal he has her papers, Flintwinch suspects he managed to wrest them from his missing brother. Mrs. Clennam invites Blandois to return at a later date and discuss business.
Pet and Henry marry and depart for Venice, where he plans to study art. Arthur confesses that he loved Pet to Amy, who does not reveal her deep and strong romantic feelings for him.
Mr. Pancks reveals his investigation is complete. He has discovered William Dorrit is heir to a fortune and now is in a position to settle his debts and leave Marshalsea as a very wealthy man. Mr. Dorrit insists his family forget their shameful past and everyone who was a part of it, and he hires Mrs. Hortensia General to educate his daughters and prepare them for their new position in society. They depart on a Grand Tour of Europe, but before they leave England Amy gives her friends the Plornishes a substantial sum of money so they can start a business and free themselves from poverty.
In Venice, the Dorrits encounter Blandois, who has befriended the newly-wed Gowans at the request of Miss Wade, who plans to have him eventually harm Henry for reasons not yet disclosed. Both Pet and Amy find themselves uncomfortable in the presence of Blandois, although Henry finds him to be a source of amusement. His feelings change completely when his dog, who had snarled at Blandois, is found poisoned shortly after the man departs without warning.
William Dorrit becomes increasingly upset with Amy, who has been unable to adapt to the family's new lifestyle as easily as her father and elder sister. Her Uncle Frederick appears to be the only one who can relate to her unhappy and lonely feelings.
Also in Venice are Mrs. Merdle and Edmund Sparkler, who tries to romance Fanny. Mrs. Merdle writes to her husband and asks him to find work for her son so she can get him away from Fanny. Back in London, Arthur is frustrated by his efforts to acquire patents for Daniel's inventions at the Circumlocution Office, where nothing ever is accomplished. At the suggestion of Mr. Pancks, Arthur invests in Mr. Merdle's highly successful bank in order to increase capital for the business.
Blandois returns to London, where Arthur observes him talking to Miss Wade. He follows her to Flora's house, where he is told her father holds an allowance in trust for the mysterious woman, but he is not convinced the story is true. His suspicions increase when he encounters Blandois at his mother's and she refuses to disclose their business. When Blandois mysteriously disappears, Mrs. Clennam comes under suspicion. Cavalletto informs Arthur that Blandois is really the murderous Rigaud, but when Arthur confronts his mother with this information, she still refuses to answer his questions. He hires Mr. Pancks to find Miss Wade in the hope she knows Rigaud's whereabouts.
William Dorrit returns to England with Fanny and Sparkler, who have married. He seeks financial advice from Mr. Merdle, who suggests he invest his fortune in his bank. Mr. Dorrit is welcomed into some of London's finest homes, but as faces from his past begin to surface, he begins to lose his grasp on sanity. He returns to Venice, where Amy is concerned about his confused state of mind. When Mrs. General rejects his proposal of marriage and quickly departs the family, Mr. Dorrit's mental state unravels and, at a masked ball hosted by Mrs. Merdle, he humiliates himself when he mistakes her home for the Marshalsea and her guests for his former fellow inmates. Amy brings him home, where he dies, followed immediately by her uncle Frederick. Now alone, Amy returns to London, where she is welcomed by Fanny and Edmund, who invite her to stay with them.
Mr. Pancks has found Miss Wade. She tells Arthur she was an orphan, which inspired her empathy with Tattycoram, and that she once romantically loved Henry Gowan, who rejected her strong and true romantic feelings, which prompted her desire to have him killed, but she insists she knows nothing of Rigaud's fate.
Mr. Merdle visits Fanny and Sparkler and borrows a penknife, which he uses to slash his jugular vein in a tub in the local bathhouse. His suicide note reveals he was a swindler who had been manipulating his books and has left thousands of people who invested with him in financial ruin. Among them is Arthur, who becomes an inmate at Marshalsea Prison when he is unable to pay his debts. A quite heartbroken and distraught John Chivery then tells Arthur that Amy has always deeply, truly loved him all along. Arthur becomes seriously ill and delirious with a high fever and is nursed back to health by Amy. Amy then offers to use her inheritance from her father to pay Arthur's debts and release him from the Marshalsea, but he sends her away and asks her not to return.
Rigaud returns to Mrs. Clennam and reveals what he knows from the stolen documents. Her stern, unloving attitude drove her husband into the arms of a woman who bore him a son, Arthur, whom Mrs. Clennam agreed to raise as her own, albeit without any motherly feeling for him. When Arthur's birth mother died, his father, anxious to help someone else who was disadvantaged, bequeathed money to Amy. Rigaud demands £2,000 to keep silent, but Mrs. Clennam leaves her house for the first time in years to find Amy, reveal the truth, and beg her forgiveness. During Mrs. Clennam's absence, her dilapidated house literally falls apart at the seams and collapses, killing Rigaud. Returning home and discovering the rubble, Mrs. Clennam collapses from sheer physiological shock and dies in the street.
When their father's will is read, the Dorrit children learn they are penniless, since William had invested all of his money with Mr. Merdle in his bank. Daniel Doyce returns from Russia, where he patented his inventions and made a fortune, and he insists on sharing his wealth with his business partner. Arthur and Amy declare their equally strong and pure romantic love for each other and finally, they are reunited; some time later, Arthur and Amy with their family and friends in attendance, are married.
The series was filmed on location at Chenies Manor House, Luton Hoo, and Hellfire Caves in Buckinghamshire; Deal Castle in Kent; Hampton Court Palace in Surrey as the Marshalsea; and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Interiors were filmed in the Pinewood Studios.
- Claire Foy ..... Amy Dorrit
- Matthew Macfadyen ..... Arthur Clennam
- Judy Parfitt ..... Mrs. Clennam
- Tom Courtenay ..... William Dorrit
- Andy Serkis ..... Rigaud/Blandois
- Eddie Marsan ..... Mr. Pancks
- Emma Pierson ..... Fanny Dorrit
- James Fleet ..... Frederick Dorrit
- Arthur Darvill ..... Edward "Tip" Dorrit
- Anton Lesser ..... Mr. Merdle
- Amanda Redman ..... Mrs Merdle
- Sebastian Armesto ..... Edmund Sparkler
- Alun Armstrong ..... Jeremiah/Ephraim Flintwinch
- Sue Johnston ..... Affery Flintwinch
- Georgia King ..... Pet Meagles
- Alex Wyndham ..... Henry Gowan
- Bill Paterson ..... Mr. Meagles
- Janine Duvitski ..... Mrs. Meagles
- Ruth Jones ..... Flora Casby Finching
- John Alderton ..... Christopher Casby
- Annette Crosbie ..... Flora's Aunt
- Zubin Varla ..... Daniel Doyce
- Russell Tovey ..... John Chivery
- Ron Cook ..... Mr. Chivery
- Freema Agyeman ..... Tattycoram
- Maxine Peake ..... Miss Wade
- Jason Thorpe ..... Jean-Baptiste Cavalletto
- Jason Watkins ..... Mr. Plornish
- Rosie Cavaliero ..... Mrs. Plornish
- Eve Myles ..... Maggy Plornish
- Pam Ferris ..... Mrs. Hortensia General
- Skye Bennett as Girl
- Ian McElhinney as Mr. Clennam
In the United Kingdom the series was often compared to Davies' Bleak House three years earlier. One reviewer for the Telegraph wrote that "Some of the acting has been a bit too hammy" and blamed falling viewing figures on "confusion over scheduling, starting as an hour long special and then breaking into half an hour episodes, like a Victorian East Enders." - another added that it "doesn't seem to have caught on in the same way as other recent costume dramas such as Cranford and Bleak House", both due to scheduling and also down since "it wasn't quite as good" as these two programmes, though also that "Most of the cast were as reliably terrific". The Independent also praised the performances, especially Courtney, Macfadayen and Peake, whilst another of its reviewers praised Davies' adaptation. The Guardian also praised the acting and the adaptation, though with the caveat that "because it's Dickens, those top names can get away with a little bit more showing off and look-at-me acting than they would be able to in, say, Jane Austen".
Brian Lowry of Variety observed, "Slow going at first and rushed near the end, it's nevertheless an absorbing piece of work, reminding us that there are certain things the Brits simply do better . . . Davies could have easily shed (or at least pared down) a few of [the] subplots without seriously diminishing the story's grandeur, and after the lengthy windup, the last hour races through tying up the assorted loose ends. Even so, there's so much gaudy talent on display here that those with an appetite for it won't be able to get enough, and Little Dorrit gives them everything they could want in a big, gloriously messy package." 
Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe felt the series "has so many virtues – indelible performances, stirring pathos, and an emotional and psychological heft unusual for Dickens – that you can forgive its one significant flaw . . . For all its feeling, Little Dorrit does not wrap up well, which is a no-no when it comes to Dickens. Indeed, a Dickens denouement needs to be neat . . . But the loose strings that Davies leaves dangling at the end of this script are frustrating. All the carefully built mystery implodes in the final act, as the importance of a number of characters . . . and the backstory itself are left murky in ways that Dickens made clear . . . It's hard to imagine how this happened in the course of such an otherwise mindful endeavor. And yet Little Dorrit is still rewarding, for the long journey, if not for the final stop." 
Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times noted, "Not every character is exactly as described on paper; some don't stay around long enough to register and others who have earned our interest just disappear. And the story can be confusing at times. But all in all, this is a dynamic, addictive rendition of a complicated novel." 
Jonathan Storm of the Philadelphia Inquirer stated, "Andrew Davies, who made 2006's Bleak House one of the best TV shows of the year, crafts another superb script, with characters and incidents squeezing out the sides, just the thing to satisfy close observers, which anyone joining this maxi mini-series should be. Costumes, sets, and actors, a broad lot of those super-skilled, terrifically trained Brits, make for sumptuous viewing . . . You pretty much know what to expect when Masterpiece visits the 19th century. But Little Dorrit stands at the high end of a very lofty list of period-piece achievement. It's big entertainment." 
In her review in the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley said the series "is as rich at the margins as at the center with strange, and strangely believable, characters from almost all levels of society, rendered in quick, firm strokes,"  while David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle called it "terrific entertainment . . . in some ways, perhaps even better than its source material." 
Awards and nominations
The serial won seven of its eleven nominations at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Directing for Dearbhla Walsh, and Outstanding Writing for Andrew Davies.
- "ABC1 Programming Airdate: Little Dorrit (episode one)". ABC Television Publicity. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
- "UKTV Programme Synopsis: Little Dorrit". UKTV Online. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
- "Little Dorrit is superb even if audiences are falling". The Daily Telegraph (London). 24 November 2008.
- Walton, James (11 December 2008). "Last night on television - Little Dorrit (BBC1)". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- Sutcliffe, Tom (27 October 2008). The Independent (London) http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/the-weekends-television-little-dorrit-sun-bbc1-br-britannia-high-sun-itv1-br-in-love-with-barbara-sun-bbc4-974178.html
|url=missing title (help).
- Eyre, Hermione (2 November 2008). The Independent (London) http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/television-little-dorrit-bbc1-brbr-in-love-with-barbara-bbc4-brbr-prescott-the-class-system-and-me-bbc2-brbr-dead-set-e4-983577.html
|url=missing title (help).
- Wollaston, Sam (27 October 2008). "The weekend's TV". The Guardian (London).
- Variety review
- Boston Globe review
- Los Angeles Times review
- Philadelphia Inquirer review
- New York Times review
- San Francisco Chronicle review
- Little Dorrit (TV series) at BBC Programmes
- Little Dorrit at the Internet Movie Database
- BBC Press Pack
- Cast and crew interviews
- Behind the scenes videos