April 9, 2009

They Did Dickens?

Recently pondering all the Dickens adaptations I've seen in my lifetime, I thought I'd post about some of the bigger-name celebs who have tried their hand at portraying one of Boz's beloved characters. Here are a few who immediately come to mind, for better or for worse.

Michael Richards (Mr. Micawber: David Copperfield)
If anyone was born to play a Dickens character, it's the guy who brought us Cosmo Kramer. (This was back before his caught-on-tape racist rant which sort of spelled his stardom's demise.) Sally Field was also in this 2000 adaptation for the TNT network playing Aunt Betsy Trotwood. Hugh Dancy was David.

GOOP (Estella, Great Expectations)
I know Estella is supposed to be kind of hateable, and in that case, Gwyneth succeeeded ten-fold. I can never block this terrible move poster from my memory, but fortunately, I have mostly banished from my mind her cold-fish performance in this film. I think this marks the moment Gywnnie first started to bug (as I actually tolerated her in Emma — I know many others didn't.) Robert DeNiro and Anne Bancroft played Magwitch and Havisham types, but even with hottie Ethan Hawke as Pip, this one was pretty bad. For a far superior telling, you must see the version with Ioan Gruffudd and Justine Waddell. Watch the clip:

Christopher Plummer (Ralph Nickleby: Nicholas Nickleby,)
So perfect as mean Uncle Ralph, although I will always love him as my Georg. Anne Hathaway was in this one (I'd completely forgotten!) as Madeline Bray.

Gillian Anderson (Lady Dedlock: Bleak House)

I'm still not convinced she can offer up more than two facial expressions, but for this portrayal, it really worked. This might be my favorite Dickens adaptation to date, and Scully nailed it. No offense to Laura Linney, but I still kind of wish Gillian was doing the intros to Masterpiece Theater (if we can't have Russell Baker, that is.)

Alec Guinness (William Dorrit: Little Dorrit; Fagan: Oliver Twist; Magwitch: Great Expectations)
I've not seen any of these, but Obi-Wan got nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Little Dorrit (1988). Take a good look at the clip below and tell me we aren't lucky to get Matthew Macfadyen as Arthur Clennam? (Spoiler alert in case you haven't figured out what happens this Sunday on LD.)


  1. Big fan of the Bleak House series. There was nary a bad performance throughout. But I think you were a bit harsh on Gillian Anderson with the two facial expressions remark. (Though still: haha!) I felt the opposite, that she did a beautiful job acting composed on the surface while internally spiraling out of control. Especially in the scene with Guppy when she realizes he has blundered onto her secret (here at 3:45 minutes in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uuKKPJxX7c)

    Her face goes from irritation, to amusement, to surprise, to horror, to despair, all in about 10 seconds and without saying a word.

  2. I agree that Gillian was fantastic in this series.

  3. She definitely is the queen of subtle emoting, and was wonderful. And thanks for the clip to remind me of just how adorable Mr. Guppy was.

  4. I loved Christopher Plummer in that role (although he will always be my Georg too!). :-)

    And I totally agree with you about Anderson vs. Linney. Linney seems to work herself into such a rage over conditions in Dickens's time that I find myself wanting to say "Chill out, girl, it was a long time ago!" I mean, I know conditions were terrible and all, and worthy of a little righteous anger, but good grief.

  5. So true about La Linney! She always has a look of great consternation on her face during those intros.