If you’re wary of spoilers, stop here.
Click to read my reviews of part one and part two of Little Dorrit if you need to catch up on the action from the last two weeks. Here’s the brief summary of episode three from the Masterpiece Classic website:
The villainous Rigaud (under an assumed name), begins an extortion scheme against Mrs. Clennam. Pancks uncovers information that dramatically alters the future for the Dorrits. Now able to move beyond his shameful past, Mr. Dorrit enlists the help of Mrs. General to instruct his daughters in etiquette. Disquieted by all the sudden changes, Amy continues her connection with Arthur through letters, and forges a closer relationship with Pet Meagles.
As I mentioned in part two’s review, I missed Mrs. Clennam’s (Judy Parfitt) cold presence and I couldn’t wait to see her interact with the murderous Rigaud (Andy Serkis). Happily, episode three starts off by gratifying both desires right away. Rigaud’s introduction to the House of Clennam was actually pretty funny. Poor Affery (Sue Johnston) may be constantly beaten down, but she’s still smart enough to recognize that Rigaud is not to be trusted. Her reaction to Rigaud climbing into the house, monkey-style, was priceless. All of Rigaud’s screentime in this episode really served to once again drive home Andy Serkis’s incredible versatility as an actor. Where Rigaud was just inexplicably creepy before, now Serkis layers on some darkly comic overtones to his presentation of the character (seen when he latches on to the Gowans), which make the murderous Frenchman seem even more threatening (and who thought that was possible?!).
Mr. Pancks (Eddie Marsan) continues to provide some welcome moments of comic relief. His joy over his success in discovering Mr. Dorrit’s lost inheritance is genuine and heartfelt. I also appreciated the dichotomy between the joy and fulfillment he finds in detective work versus his “day job” as a rent collector for the slumlord Mr. Casby. Pancks is definitely one of the “good guys” who’s stuck in the difficult situation of working for an unscrupulous landlord – perhaps this explains, at least in part, his happiness in being able to help someone who has been wronged by the system like Amy Dorrit. And Amy returns the favor by passing on her new-found blessings. In Amy, Dickens gives us a character proving that riches don’t make a lady – instead, in the right hands, wealth merely enhances a person’s character, as it does in Amy’s case when she shuns opportunities for self-aggrandizement and helps deserving friends like the Plornishes instead.
Speaking of the Dorrits, I am so over Mr. Dorrit by now. After his mini-meltdown last week, I was willing to give him the benefit of a doubt and cut him some slack. Last week, Tom Courtenay did an excellent job of portraying the cost imprisonment in the Marshalsea inflicted on William Dorrit’s mental and physical health. However, there’s a point where people need to take responsibility for themselves and not act like complete jerks when their fortunes change. After Arthur – out of the goodness of his heart, for pete’s sake! – takes it upon himself to “adopt” the Dorrits, investigate their situation, and show the family multiple kindnesses, he’s unceremoniously kicked to the curb as soon as Mr. Dorrit learns of his pending inheritance. It was positively painful to watch poor Arthur get treated like crap by the pretentious Dorrits (excluding Amy, of course, as well as her uncle Frederick), when they owe their good fortune entirely to the fact that he took the initiative to investigate their history! The behavior of Mr. Dorrit, his son Tip, and daughter Fanny is just plain awful – extraordinarily distasteful and selfish. I’m so over the whole lot of them!
This brings me to one of my favorite subjects to discuss…the character of Arthur, and by extension Matthew Macfadyen’s mad acting skills. LOL! Now that Arthur has no hope of marrying Pet Meagles (Georgia King) since she became engaged to artist Henry Gowan (Alex Wyndham), he’s left to nurse crushed hopes and, wonder of wonders, loosen up a bit and start to show some genuine appreciation for Amy and her constant friendship (when he carries her out to the coach after she faints – wowzers, that moment was fantastic!). One of the things I loved about Macfadyen’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice 2005 was how he became a completely different person when he smiled – the storm clouds broke and the sunlight shone through. Arthur’s flashes of happiness had the same effect on me during last night’s episode – only perhaps they were a bit more poignant, because Arthur is really a criminally under-appreciated guy, and with his family background he clearly wasn’t given much to smile about. Watching Arthur journey from a place of emptiness and un-fulfillment into increased confidence, joy, and self-worth has been a rewarding experience thus far. He’s an easy character to cheer for – he’s not entirely a doormat, and he’s not a perfect, heroic ideal. He’s an everyday guy who’s taken more than his share of knocks who has this unshakeable desire to do the right thing, and be a decent human being, that makes him wonderfully relatable.
Once the Dorrits are freed from Marshalsea Prison, Mr. Dorrit engages Mrs. General (Pam Ferris) to prepare his children to take their “rightful” place in society. It was a real treat to see Pam Ferris in this role (you may recognize her as Aunt Marge from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or as the sinister Grace Poole from Jane Eyre 2006). She’s hilarious being all fussy and proper and mercenary, all at the same time. Mrs. General encourages Mr. Dorrit to take his family on a “grand tour” of Europe – and while abroad the Dorrits meet the Gowans. Here is where the Rigaud mystery gets even murkier – Rigaud knows the seriously whacked-out Miss Wade (Maxine Peake), a.k.a. the corrupter of Tattycoram. She sent him after the Gowans, encouraging him to ingratiate himself with the easily swayed Henry, and to take advantage, if he can, of any encounter with Amy Dorrit. Some of the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. Perhaps Rigaud’s targeting of Mrs. Clennam isn’t a mere “lucky chance” - I think there’ s a history that’s yet to be revealed, involving more players than I’d ever dreamed (i.e. Miss Wade).
One of my favorite aspects of episode three was how Amy & Arthur’s relationship developed through letters during the latter half of this episode. There’s something so incredibly romantic about a relationship forged through the written word, isn’t there? There’s a couple of things going on here, but perhaps the most important being Amy’s subtle defiance of her father by refusing to disown Arthur. Amy is blossoming into a true lady, developing a backbone, and proving again and again that she’s the most genuine, honorable member of her rag-tag family. She even shows admirable compassion towards her rival for Arthur's affections, Pet. Claire Foy adds depth to her portrayal of Amy with each succeeding episode. Primarily she has achieved the delicate feat of being a perfectly sweet heroine who’s not annoying - and that is quite a feat in my book. LOL!
Needless to say, I cannot WAIT for part four this coming Sunday!
If you need to catch up on episodes of Little Dorrit, you can watch online at the PBS website.