Bleak House (BBC)
British television drama’s way with such prose writers as Jane Austen, Henry James and Thomas Hardy is well established and has won many awards, Peabodys included. Even so, the BBC’s decision to bring to the screen Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, a sprawling tale of a decades-long law suit that might have no climax, its multi-layered plots packed with as rich a population of characters as Victorian London itself, might have seemed an adaptation too far. Instead, the production set new benchmarks for the genre across the range of television’s crafts, from screenplay to scheduling, photography to props, design to direction. Bleak House was produced by Nigel Stafford-Clark. Justin Chadwick and Susanna White directed the 15 episodes. Kieran McGuigan was director of photography. Executive producers were Sally Haynes, Laura Mackie and, for WGBH, Rebecca Eaton. For Andrew Davies, screenwriter of so many admired adaptations, Bleak House surely now ranks as the jewel in his crown. Such performances as Charles Dance’s Machiavellian Tulkinghorn, Burn Gorman’s desperately aspirational Guppy, and Anna Maxwell Martin’s valiant Esther live in the memory, together with Gillian Anderson’s triumphant transatlantic crossing to play the self-denyingly glacial—and very English—Lady Dedlock. But every character, great and small, was a vivid reminder of British television’s ability to call on a national theatre of fine actors. Credit, too, to the scheduler. Peter Fincham chose to echo Dickens’ own cliff-hanging serializations, running Bleak House in half-hour slots each Thursday and Friday, then repeating the full hour on Sunday. He created “appointment viewing,” soap-style, for a series that greatly rewarded its many extra viewers. For all this, a Peabody goes to Bleak House.
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