Monday, November 15, 2010

Martin Chuzzlewit

Pedr James, 1994, 385 min. (8.7*)
Charles Dickens novels need the mini-series treatment, as it really takes about 6-8 hours of film to properly present the richness of his lengthy works, which are noted for a pantheon of eccentric British characters, usually with humorous surnames. This BBC production is six one-hour episodes.

This little-known, and never filmed novel is actually his first. He had not yet built an audience, but this is archetypal of his later works, presenting most of the elements we think of as Dickensian. An wealthy, octogenarian family patriarch, Martin Chuzzlewit, superbly played by Paul Schofield (in his best performance since his Oscar®-winning one in A Man For All Seasons) is failing in health, and stops in a small village near London to recover, while his family begins to gather, anticipating the end. He has disinherited his namesake grandson and hand-picked heir (Ben Walden, in one of the films weaker performances) due to an unapproved romance with his paid secretary-companion (sort of a 'hired surrogate daughter'), Mary (Pauline Turner), who is so kindly and graceful that all men fall for her.

Oscar®-winner Tom Wilkinson has a field day as a local baron of the village named Pecksniff, a widower who lives with and dotes on his two daughters, Mercy and Charity; he befriends the elderly Chuzzlewit during his illness and gains his trust as a family outsider. We get to read many of Pecksniff's inner thoughts and machinations in his expressions alone, as he is not exactly the saintly, selfless gent he presents to society.

This story is full of twists and turns, and even murder, as we follow the trials and triumphs of a plethora of characters. As usual, some minor characters nearly steal the show - in this case a young orphan boy named Bailey who's used as a butler at a rooming house, wonderfully played by Paul Francis; and an alcoholic nurse with a red bulbous nose, played by Elizabeth Spriggs. A third Oscar®-winner, John Mills, father of Hayley, has a small part as a loyal, now senile family clerk still being taken care of by them in his old age. The character of Tom Pinch (Philip Franks), who is liked by everyone but intimately involved with no one (other than as friend to young Martin), appears to be perhaps the personification of the author himself.

This has a much humor as any Dickens novel, with names like Seth Pecksniff, Pinch, Prig, Todgers, Chevy Slyme, Tigg Montague, Mr. Mould, and Mr. Spottletoe. Nominated for an Emmy for television mini-series, and also received several BAFTA nominations, including actor for Schofield, Wilkinson, and Peter Postelwaite.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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