The illiterate’s guide to staying on top of literature

Short answer: Masterpiece Theatre.  Many of the BBC’s fine productions are available via Netflix.  These vary in quality and the rule of thumb here is that there is often a tradeoff between adherence to the original text and the quality of the production, acting, etc.  Best practice here is not to be a stickler for textual authenticity.  Charles Dicken’s Hard Times, which I started last night has some of the worst acting and background music of any BBC historical series I’ve ever seen, and yet when Mr. Bounderby proclaims, in a thick, possibly drunken brogue that his mother could drink twelve gins before breakfast, well, you have to laugh.   Here’s a caveat for those who think watching these shows is a substitute for actually reading the great works: know what you’re getting yourself into.  If I’d actually read Tess of the D’Urbervilles, I would have some inkling of the downer ending.  Such information is important if you, like me, enjoy a glass of wine or two while watching historical dramas, which of course you do, because everyone on the screen is swilling back booze to help them cope with unrequited love, rampant plagues, and/or their draconian Industrial Revolution overlords.  I could have used a heads up that we were headed for a real downer of an ending.  There’s a fine line between bittersweet whimsicality and horribly depressing, a line that is best left uncrossed.  My advice is stick with Dickens, because at least he approaches the the depressing conditions of his era with a degree of humor.  Bleak House is, thus far, the end all be all of Dickensian BBC productions–the rest, in the immortal words of Mr. Smallweed is “rubbish . . .  rubbish . . .rubbish and . . . RUBBISH.  What’s this then?  Smells of lady.”  (I’m paraphrasing).  Basically, Andrew Davies is the supreme god of literary adaptations.  Which brings us then, to the present.  Following Wuthering Heights (downer alert)and Sense and Sensibility (also a bit of a downer), PBS will be airing, count them FOUR Dickens adaptations in The Tales of Charles Dickens series: Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Little Dorritt, and the Old Curiosity Shop–this last includes Claudius the God himself, non other than the esteemed personage of Mr. Derek Jacobi.  My advice to you is lay in a supply of Little Penguin Shiraz and beginning Feb. 15th, keep your Sunday nights clear.  -Ed Scripsi

Published in: on January 14, 2009 at 5:56 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Ed, Tess is Thomas Bleeding Hardy. Mr Bad News. What dan you possibly expect?

    I got the 1980s Nicholas Nickelby for Christmas which will make you weep in the middle unless you have a heart of stone but, Dickens being Dickens, sends you out with a smile and you can borrow that.

    And as to that film induced wine impulse, how do you handle authentic nineteen-thirties adaptation or even actual nineteen thirties film cigarette smoking?

  2. In college, I wrote a four-page English paper decrying “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” as unreadable, droning and depressing. My emotions were so strong & vitrolic that I think the professor was intimidated into give me a A. The only joy the book gave me was the chuckle of recollection courtesy of the Monty Python “Novel Writing” sketch.


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