What the Dickens!

 I have a confession to make: I’ve never read a whole Dickens novel. I think I’ve tried. I seem to remember starting ‘A Tale in Two Cities’ but I didn’t get very far. Certainly I’ve seen films, TV programmes and even a musical in the West End but not read the books. In fact, I’ve not felt the need to – until now.

Tony Jordan has done what Alistair Sim, Michael Caine & the Muppets and Lionel Bart couldn’t achieve. After watching Dickensian, I now want to read Dickens.

As it’s been half term, I’ve had to find things for the children to do and high on my list was to visit the Dickens Museum in Doughty Street, London. Although my youngest is too little to watch the programme, the older two have been watching it with fascination (apart from when anyone kisses). So, with some persuasion, we all headed off up to London. The first thing that struck me was Doughty Street itself and the surrounding roads. They are beautifully still in character, as though you were walking onto a set itself. The museum is very much in keeping with Victorian times with wallpaper, carpet and even lighting to match the era. To see Dickens actual desk and chair and know that he sat there to write was something that thrilled me as a writer. I’m not sure if it thrilled my children as much but they certainly got a sense of what it was like.

It was interesting too to find out that he kept his childhood poverty hidden so well that the public only knew two years after his death. He wrote from experience of debtors’ prison and childhood labour. Social justice was clearly important to him and I wonder if he were alive today, what would he write about? Homelessness, food banks, refugees, poverty – have things really changed so much since the 19th century?

The highlight for me at the museum though was seeing the costumes from Dickensian. From Mrs Gamp and Mrs Bumble to Miss Havisham and Honoria Barbary – the costumes are stunning. There’s a wonderful painting in Dickens’ study called Dickens Dream and it has a lot of his characters in it, coming out of their stories and standing together. Tony Jordan said that this painting was great inspiration for him and showed that the characters could stand on their own two feet. This shows how good Dickens’ characterisation was, that they could be removed from their plotlines but still be instantly recognisable. And this is what Tony Jordan has done, and in my opinion, done with magnificence. Having seen pictures and video of how the set came to be and what the actors thought of it themselves (Anton Lesser as Fagin said that when he saw the set he knew he had to up his game), what has been achieved his truly remarkable and surely there has to be a second series.

If I have one criticism then it’s the BBC’s scheduling for this programme. It has been erratic and now, just as it seems to have finally settled into a Thursday/Friday slot, the finale is on Sunday 21st Feb at 6.25. Quite frankly, Dickensian deserved better. And if there isn’t a BAFTA nomination for Sophie Rundle as Honoria Barbary, then something is really wrong. From frivolous young woman to tragic heroine, Sophie Rundle has given, to my mind, the outstanding performance of the series. And that’s high praise indeed when you consider how wonderful Stephen Rea has been as Inspector Bucket. Of course, if there is a spin off, then it should be Inspector Bucket, Mr Venus and Madame Snuggles as a new crime solving team. Now, I bet that’s not a plot that Charles Dickens had considered!



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