Thursday, May 7, 2009

Little Dorrit, Part Five (you thought I'd never get around to it, didn't you?)

I’m shamefully late in posting my thoughts on the final installment of Little Dorrit, but life intervened in a not-so-small way these past few weeks, involving day after day of horrible allergy problems and sinus headaches. Either I’m getting better at long last, or I’m just getting used to a horribly low status quo…not sure which yet. *wink* Then there’s work stress, and on top of all that my grandmother (Dad’s side) has had several health issues accompanying attempts to get her settled into an assisted living facility. Thankfully, her situation took a turn for the better this weekend…but the adjustment is still difficult. Prayers appreciated!

Spoilers ahead…

All that to say, my delay in posting this final write-up happily has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the conclusion – Little Dorrit has proven to be an outstanding production, and hands down is my runaway favorite part of this year’s Masterpiece Classic season. Since it’s been a while, here are links to my reviews of part one, two, three, and four of Little Dorrit, and here’s the brief episode summary from the Masterpiece website:

Broken by reminders of the past in London, Mr. Dorrit returns to be with Amy in Italy. Amy watches as her father continues to fall apart.

Pancks discovers the whereabouts of Miss Wade, and Arthur asks for her help in finding Rigaud. Arthur is convinced that Rigaud's ties to the House of Clennam relate to his father's deathbed secrets.

Meanwhile, an unthinkable revelation about Mr. Merdle sends shockwaves throughout London. The story reaches a climax at the Marshalsea where Amy and Arthur meet once more, and at the House of Clennam, where finally Mrs. Clennam's secrets are brought to light.

Where the pace of episode four dragged a bit for me, I was riveted by the conclusion. Amy (Claire Foy) and Arthur (Matthew Macfadyen) are placed squarely front and center and are the focal point of the action, and it’s a joy after five-plus hours of agony to finally seen their relationship get somewhere! But I’m getting ahead of myself…

I’ve made no secret of my distaste for Mr. Dorrit – he’s been annoying, pompous, overbearing, manipulative, and downright emotionally abusive. He’s dispatched rather quickly at the beginning of episode five, and I have to give particular credit to Claire Foy, James Fleet (Amy’s uncle, Frederick Dorrit), and Tom Courtenay (Mr. Dorrit himself) for the emotional pull they imparted to these scenes. My intense dislike for Mr. Dorrit softened at the end in the face of Amy and Frederick’s love and grief over his loss. And speaking of loss, I totally didn’t expect for Frederick to give up the ghost after his brother’s death!! That was just awful…I loved his interaction with Amy, and I was sort of hoping they could support each other’s efforts to frustrate societal expectations. *wink* Amy and her uncle were a sweet pair – kindred, giving spirits in the midst of a crazy, delusional family. James Fleet’s performance at the end was incredibly moving, very well done indeed (a nice change from Fleet’s flakier, but equally endearing turn in The Vicar of Dibley).

Why not jump right from one death to another? (That sounds really morbid and flippant, doesn’t it? LOL) Mr. Merdle and his banking schemes finally come crashing down, and wipe out the fortunes of pretty much everyone we’ve come to know over the course of the series. Can we say timely & relevant? Anyway, Mr. Merdle (Anton Lesser) is really quite creepy given how we never see him lose his cool. Watching him ask to borrow Fanny’s penknife with what can only be described as a chipper manner was really rather mind-blowing. Merdle had obviously completely disconnected from reality. And I seriously didn’t expect him to off himself in a bathtub!! It was absolutely fascinating to see the panic and widespread effect Merdle’s suicide had on all of London society. The “man of the age” brought down the fortunes of so many, and I appreciated that the film gave us a glimpse at the disastrous ripple effect caused by the collapse of Merdle’s banking empire.

Merdle’s death brings me a final note about Fanny Dorrit, now married to the besotted Edmund Sparkler. She marries to spite Mrs. Merdle, and then the rug is unceremoniously ripped out from under her with the collapse of the Merdle banking empire. I have really gotten a kick out of Emma Pierson’s portrayal of Fanny – she’s not a wholly admirable character by a longshot, but I like her nonetheless. She’s got sass and spunk and outrageous manners, and at the end of the day she loves her sister. Really, when it comes down to brass tacks as the saying goes, Fanny is the best equipped character to deal with the Merdles’ reversal of fortunes. And I love the delicious irony that the pretentious Mrs. Merdle is now dependent on a daughter-in-law she despises – it’s crystal-clear by this point that Mrs. Merdle and Fanny are more alike than either woman would ever dare admit.

JOHN CHIVERY ROCKS! Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I’ll try to talk about why my darling assistant turnkey is so fabulous. Russell Tovey’s acting has consistently exceeded my expectations throughout this entire production. I fell in love with John’s character at the very beginning of the program, but I was completely unprepared for where Tovey took his character in the concluding installment. The first time I watched John confront Arthur about Amy, when Arthur becomes a Marshalsea resident, my jaw dropped. I can remember clearly thinking he’s really going for it, I never expected him to go there. Tovey’s performance is so visceral, so gut-wrenching, that the emotional punch of the scene knocked me flat. And when John delivers his own eulogy (of sorts)…I cannot lie, people, the man made me cry. On top of all this, he continually helps Amy and Arthur, sacrificing his own peace of mind out of love for Amy - the guy is too good for words. John Chivery goes down as one of my all-time favorite characters, and I'm really looking forward to seeing where Russell Tovey's acting career goes from here.

Amy and Arthur’s first reunion during this section of the film is anything but warm and fuzzy. I really never expected Amy to basically tell Arthur off like she does, but a part of me was really quite glad to see it. Arthur is truly a lovely, stand-up guy, but he is so freaking DENSE! I have to admit, when John smacks Arthur upside the head by revealing Amy’s true feelings, I did enjoy his suffering through the realization just a wee bit. His suffering seemed like a smallish price to pay for the flipping MENTAL ANGUISH Amy had put up with for 80% of the show. Anyways…I love, love, LOVE Amy and Arthur’s proper reunion, when he wakes up from his fever to discover she’s been nursing him back to health. Of course then I want to smack him upside the head with a 2x4 when he tries to go all noble – I love you, but now that I’m in debtor’s prison I’m tainted for all time, blah, blah, blah…but good for Amy for basically telling him you can blather on all you want but you’re stuck with me for good.

Regarding the whole Rigaud/Miss Wade/House of Clennam mystery, without going into detail I’m going to say I’m on the whole pretty pleased with how everything is resolved. The first time I watched this portion of the program, I was left confused by Arthur and Amy’s relationship…somehow I ended up thinking they were cousins. Thankfully another commenter came to the rescue with an explanation (bottom line: Arthur and Amy are not related at all - LOL!). As Mrs. Clennam learns, the truth will out. Did anyone actually think the House of Clennam was going to fall down, literally?! That completely shocked me. LOL! Flintwinch's "blimey" as he climbs out of the rubble was priceless. I mean the house actually, physically, fell apart. I still find that rather mind-blowing. A little obvious (LOL), but it makes for interesting television, that's for sure.

Arthur and Amy's final, at long last, boy-I-never-thought-this-day-would-come declaration of love was a sweet, sweet payoff to all of the turmoil and trouble the pair endured throughout the series. Macfadyen and Foy really made a great romantic on-screen couple. There was something incredibly romantic in the way the two looked on-screen - the romantic in me just melted into a puddle of goo (good goo, LOL) at the way Arthur just picked Amy up and swung her around with joy. When Matthew Macfadyen smiles, it's almost like he becomes a completely different person (you can really see that in his turn as Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice). I know this is cheesy, but seeing Arthur finally really, truly joyful, the weight of secrets and mean pseudo-mothers lifted from his shoulders - that just made me happy.

This series was amazing. Kudos to the filmmakers and Andrew Davies in particular for scripting another Dickens miniseries for me to obsess over. *wink* There's so much "meat" to this series, I'm sure I'll be picking up on new details and nuances of performances for some time to come.

Purchase Little Dorrit on DVD (totally worth it people, trust me!).

1 comment:

Heidenkind said...

I think you really need to read Drood at some point. Yes, Dickens was in the Staplehurst crash with his mistress, Ellen Tiernan, and her mother, coming back from France. Tiernan does appear in the book several times, although Wilkie is not very complimentary about her. I think he calls her a bore, and an unattractive one at that. But what does he know. ;)