Friday, December 7, 2012

Miniseries Review - Our Mutual Friend

Our Mutual Friend
Based on the book by Charles Dickens
Release Date: 1998
Starring: Paul McGann, Keeley Hawes, Dominic Mafham, Steven Mackintosh, Anna Friel, Peter Vaughan, Pam Ferris, Timothy Spall, David Bradley, Anthony Calf and David Morrissey
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Lizzie Hexam works with her father searching the river for corpses to see if those who have gone into the next world have left anything for those in this world. Lizzie doesn't want a better life for herself, but she wants one for her brother, Charley. One night they pull in the corpse of a John Harmon. John Harmon was returning to England to lay claim to his father's great fortune. His death has several repercussions, which society takes great delight in hearing through the estate's lawyer, Mortimer Lightwood. One interesting provision in the will is that John Harmon was only to inherit if he married a young girl of his father's choosing, Bella Wilfer. Bella is now stuck with her family, while Harmon the elders right hand man, Mr. Boffin, who ran his business operations in dust, is brought out of the muck with his missus and made a very wealthy man. They not only take in Bella to make amends, but also hire the mysterious John Rokesmith.

While the Harmon affair is moving along, things have been happening down at the river. Lizzie's father has turned up dead, and she has sent her brother Charley away to school. Yet ever since that night when her father brought in the body of John Harmon, Mortimer Lightwood's friend, Eugene Wrayburn has become obsessed with Lizzie. Soon he isn't the only one, as Charley's teacher, Mr. Headstone, because violently obsessed with Lizzie and threatens Eugene. This leads Lizzie to flee London, but the two men will not give up that easily.

With all the lives and loves intertwining, money and inheritances in question, people having multiple identities and people hoping to frame others, Dickens has created a story that's denouement will hopefully answer some of the muddle he has made.

The main theme in Our Mutual Friend is obsession. Personally, I know a bit about obsession, not anything like the depths sunk to by the characters in this miniseries, but, obsession on a lesser scale I get. I originally watched this back in the day during my Keeley Hawes obsession. See, I find an actor I like and I tend to then mass ingest their oeuvre, I should mention I'm not as bad as I was, but I still have my leanings in this direction. A famous past obsession was Ioan Gruffudd, which led to watching the horrid Very Annie Mary and Shooters, which kind of quickly made me stop watching his films, though the love is still there (Hornblower!), in that I actually gave Ringers a shot, not for Sarah Michelle Geller, but for him, yeah, that was a wasted attempt too. When I saw Keeley in Wives and Daughters, I was really impressed and decided to do a Keeley binge. Which is one reason I ended up watching Tipping the Velvet, which, I might say, though period drama it is, PG-13 it isn't, oh my. I also ended up being a fan of MI-5, which led to my Matthew MacFadyen obsession, and then oddly they got married in real life... but the one miniseries I really wanted to watch was Our Mutual Friend. I was kind of also doing a Dickens marathon of sorts at the time and this would be perfect, plus, the 8th Doctor was in it. Of course, at the time it wasn't available in the US, so I ordered it from overseas and was mildly impressed, but not in love.

I felt the same way rewatching this miniseries as I did originally, like, not love, also, the US edition made in pan scan, so lots of the framing is awful. I attempted to read the book after watching it the first time and failed miserably. Perhaps I shouldn't have tried reading Dickens's densest and most complicated and final novel as my first Dickens, but I swear, after re-reading a chapter ten times and not known if Dickens was referring to a person or a piece of furniture, I placed him aside and picked up Trollope. I have yet to pick Dickens up again, which is one of the reasons I'm doing my Dickensian Denouement, to force myself. But back to the miniseries. I applaud Sandy Welch, of North and South and Jane Eyre fame, for taking, what I felt a convoluted text, and making it easy to understand and follow. What I had trouble with was the acting. It wasn't cast with actors of equal abilty, or maybe it was the direction, but some of the roles are so flat and lifeless, mainly Steven Mackintosh as John Rokesmith. He smiles maybe once and the only time he shows real emotion it is so violent, if I where Bella I'd be rethinking my choice in husband.

But it's the obsessions with money and women that form the narrative that I find more than a little off putting. Yes, there is true love, but the love is born of deceit and stalking, I'm talking of Eugene's minimal stalking compared to Headstone's terrifying, blood spilling, willing to kill stalking. I believe this was the first film I had ever seen David Morrissey in and I have to say, if that kind of destructive passion was aimed at me, I too would run away, or be looking for a hit man, but watching it, his deterioration is kind of funny. Not funny haha, obviously, but, all that punching and hiding in bushes while looking like death with a feverish look in his eye, it came across kind of laughable. Maybe, it's just that you have to laugh or be scared. Yet, Morrissey as Headstone was at least passionate. The other to male leads where so laid back and ineffectual, that you could not understand why anyone would fall in love with them. Well, Keeley, not to rag too much on her, was kind of boring, so, that made sense. But Anna Friel as Bella! She had warmth and intelligence and a mind and she is tricked into her hearts desire. Because she was manipulated into her happy ending. Ok, yes, she at least got a happy ending, but still, at what cost?

And if you weren't scheming for a woman, you where scheming for money. Wegg, Mr and Mrs Lammle, Riderhood, they where all wanting more. They all believed they deserved more. Personally I feel I should have gotten more out of this miniseries. Instead I'm dissatisfied. The good won, the bad lost, but I couldn't really care about any of the characters enough to give a toss. Sure there was some great acting, but it was so uneven that I longed for something better, something more, something a cut above the rest. Maybe that's the answer as to why Dickens keeps getting adaption after adaption, no one is ever satisfied by the whole production and they must begin again.


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