After weeks of meandering storylines and terrible double entendres, Dickensian lives up to the promise of its beginnings, with two episodes that are entertaining, and both for different reasons. This is what the show should’ve been like all along. So while I usually lump both together in a review, it’s worth separating them this week.
Episode 16 is reminiscent of those rare bottle episodes of EastEnders where you only see a couple of the cast, usually just in one room, talking, shouting, crying, snivelling and sniffling. Usually in that order. It’s not strictly a two-hander here, but compared to the usual number of people bustling through half an hour of Dickensian, it’s a noticeable episode for being pared right down; focusing most of the episode on sisters Frances and Honoria.
And just as with those EastEnders bottle episodes, it’s all to focus on exploring character and subsequent revelations. Which means that we get to see how well-cast Alexandra Moen and Sophie Rundle are, the two of them giving tremendously matched performances as Honoria goes into early labour with just her frosty religious sister Frances (and an Encyclopaedia) to help her.
Even knowing how it’s all going to turn out it’s terribly desperate and anxious, but it’s also beautifully paced; the stress between both sisters spilling out in just the right quantities at just the right time as they have a heart to heart and open up old and new wounds with raw honesty, all before the cruellest blow is dealt. Baby Esther is born but is stillborn, and for one week only Call the Midwife has a rival in tear-jerking new-born drama.
But wait, the baby cries! The plot thickens! And Frances, still believing the child will drag her family’s reputation ‘into the mire’, hides it to be given away. And thus a novel is born.
Episode 17 brings the fallout, and even more emotion as idiot Captain Hawdon proposes marriage, only to discover his child is dead. ‘I’m nothing without you. Nobody,’ he tells Honoria after another great moment from Sophie Rundle. All very prophetic. By the time Bleak House rolls around he’ll be living (and dying) under the name Mr Nemo, the Latin for ‘nobody’. Latin lessons, that’s why you read CultBox.
After the heavy emotion of Honoria’s apparent stillbirth there’s the ‘how much have I had to drink?’ catharsis of seeing Stephen Rea and Omid Djalili act with utmost seriousness while Djalili holds a bonnet-wearing stuffed cat called Madame Snuggles. It’s a scene that deserves its own BAFTA category. ‘Best Acting Alongside Taxidermy’.
I’m not being flippant when I say that this show would have been 1000% better if Madame Snuggles had been present throughout this show, perhaps in varying costumes. Three minutes on screen, staring blankly into space, is better than the entire Bumble plot.
Inspector Bucket, Mr Venus, and Madame Snuggles revisit every part of the investigation but come up short. Off for a pie then. Mr Bucket has loved his pies in this show, hasn’t he? He’s eaten them, used them to interview suspects, even taken the odd one home for his wife. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the clue to solving Jacob Marley’s murder was in a pie all along? But that would be crazy. Laughable, even.
Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha-WHAAAAAAAA?!?!
Yes, the clue – an arrow-shaped chip off the murder weapon – has literally been under his nose the whole time, imprinted in every pie he’s been eating like a grisly pastry confession. Pies made by Mrs Cratchit, who was literally the last suspect on my list. Even after Madame Snuggles.
It makes a Midsomer’s modicum of sense that she should have killed Marley (she should’ve dragged away his body then baked him in the pies, Sweeney Todd style – the perfect crime!), but after 17 episodes it’s a reveal that’s not as exciting as it should be. Not necessarily anticlimactic, but definitely enough to make you wonder if you’ve spent the past eight and half hours wisely, instead of, say, learning how to taxidermy a cat.
Of course, you could stop watching now, now that you know the killer’s identity. But then you’d be denied knowing how Mrs Cratchit escapes the hangman’s noose and ends up in some obscure Christmas story. And let’s not forget, despite the best efforts of Arthur Havisham and his pineapple, Compeyson and Miss Havisham are about to have a wedding that may not make it to the buffet.
After the strength of this week, I have great expectations it’s going to be terrific to watch.
Aired at 8pm on Thursday 11 February 2016 and at 8.30pm on Friday 12 February 2016 on BBC One.
What did you think of this week’s episodes? Let us know below…