Dickensian is a nice enough drama for a half an hour at a time, but here’s where it’s gone wrong – it’s not a show about solving a dog murder.
Because I don’t know about you, but right now I’m more interested in seeing Compeyson being brought to justice over the murder of Jip the dog, than seeing who gets clapped in irons for killing Jacob Marley. That would be far more interesting.
I want Inspector Bucket to be pounding the streets, teaming up with Bill Sykes’ dog, Bullseye, to sniff out clues and chase suspects down alleys, like a Victorian Turner & Hooch. I want #justiceforJip, dammit.
It’s a feeling that’ll have passed by next week. There’s no better way to communicate to the pet-loving Great British public that a character is evil than by having them kill a dog. It’s a cheap but effective bit of writing to communicate villainy, and it’s all part of Compeyson’s cheap but effective plan to eliminate anyone who’s a threat to him ruining Miss Havisham.
Frankly, beyond the pet murdering, it’s hilarious that he considers a dog as much as an intellectual threat as, say, another human like Matthew Pocket.
But he’s all too willing to commit ‘mutt-ricide’; tossing Jip – a dog which, let’s not forget, he risked his own life to pretend to save last week – into the Thames. Along with a perfectly good sack. God, the humanity. ‘And then there were none…’ he announces, like a man who’d recently binged on BBC One’s terrific adaptation (he didn’t of course, as he was too busy plotting and baring his arse, more fool him).
Speaking of unfortunate creatures in the drink, desperate dipsomaniac Mrs Gamp attempts to squeeze more gin out of Mr Wegg by pretending to be a rat – yes, try not to overthink it – in order to become a live-in drunk at The Three Cripples pub. She’s a well-written bit of stuff, Mrs Gamp, full of the gin-clear lies and excuses that an alcoholic tells to keep their tongue wet.
Good job too, as she has little else to do except be in search of the next tot, or be thrust into an innuendo-riddled situation which makes you wonder if writer Justin Young would one day like to pen ‘Carry On Dickens’.
‘Lay your hands on my swollen appendage…,’ Sid James Silas Wegg says, in an unusually ‘ooh-err, missus!’ moment for the show. One that proves some of Dickensian‘s 30-something strong cast of characters are there solely to provide colour to contrast the grim background of dog drownings and murder investigations.
Not all of them do it well. Mr and Mrs Bumble have had all of about ten minutes of screen time in the past nine episodes but already feel tiresome the moment they puff and flap into view. The amount of effort Caroline Quentin puts into the shrieking missus only enhances the feeling that you’re watching a fishwife drowning noisily in slow motion.
You can guarantee that when The Bumbles are on screen the jokes will land with the grace of a dog dropped in a river. Their big plot points this week involve a diet(!), and buying china for a dinner with Mr Gradgrind(!!), a fellow who, if you’ve read Hard Times, will know has no interest in dinnerware. The thought of some kind of comic dinner party with him and the Bumbles fills me with dread.
Fortunately here comes the misery of Mr Barbary’s situation to save us from the misery of the Bumble’s flat jokes. His textile stock seized, his mysterious valuables sold to the Old Curiosity Shop, and with no other financial recourse, Edward Barbary is carted away to debtor’s prison, just as Dickens’ own father was.
It’s a good solid chunk of Victorian hardship, the kind of thing Dickens excelled at, and as one of the better member of the cast Adrian Rawlins makes Barbary both frustrating and pitiable to watch, and really the most human of all the big, broad characters in this show.
And as one man is on his way down, another is on his way up. Yes, it’s that scoundrel Compeyson again, the smell of wet dog barely cleaned from his buffness. He brings Miss Havisham a new, totes adorbs, dog. So fluffy. Much cute. Very lies. Let’s not enquire where he really got it from. With his canine prop in tow, he spins Miss H a tale of a wedding day jilting; one identical to that which she’ll recount years later as she sits in a rotting wedding dress, next to a cobwebbed cake.
Compeyson, that dog, lies and says that he loves her. She falls for it. They smooch, we all grit our teeth in anger. And somewhere far down river from where they are – probably near Teddington by now, I reckon – a pooch in a sack bobs on its journey toward the sea, along with any hope of retribution for Compeyson.
No #justiceforJip this week. But Dickensian continues to be just good enough to keep floating back to every midweek. Only just, mind you.
Aired at 8pm on Wednesday 13 January 2016 and at 8pm on Thursday 14 January 2016 on BBC One.
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