Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1852-53)

The Radio Times Article

Produced by: John Dryden for BBC Radio Collection
ISBN: 0563557206
First Broadcast: November 29, 1998 (BBC Radio 4)
Recorded at: Chiddingstone Castle, Kent
Dramatised by: John Dryden
Directed by: John Dryden
Music: Sacha Puttnam, Nick Russell Pavier
Running Time: approx 5 hours

Michael Kitchen ... John Jarndyce
Claire Price ... Esther Summerson
Honeysuckle Weeks ... Ada Clare
Robert Portal ... Richard Carstone
Michael Fenton Stevens ... Harold Skimpole
John Shrapnel ... Kenge
Rob Jarvis ... Guppy
Danny Worters ... Jo
Brendan O'Hea ... Woodcourt
Ellie Haddington ... Miss Barbary/Hortense
Daisy Beaumont ... Lady Deadlock
Anton Lesser ... Tulkinghorn
Berwick Kaler ... Inspector Bucket/Sir Leicester Dedlock
Michael Atwell ... Krook
Jean Marsh ... Miss Flite
Greg Hicks ... Snagsby
Jonathon Oliver ... Vholes
Eamon Boland ... George
Roger Frost ... Smallweed
with Charlie Hayes, Tamara King, Suzanne Rainforth,
Dell Synott, Hugh Terry.

The Novel:
(From the BBC Radio Collection notes.)

"The fog is very dense indeed."

Bleak House is many things.

It is a court-room saga in which the Jarndyce and Jarndyce case, a contested inheritance, drags through the Courts of Chancery year in, year out, gradually grinding down hipeful suitors, leading them to despair and ruination.

It is a romance in which the orphan Esther Summerson discovers the secrets of her origins, is torn between two lovers and eventually finds true love.

It is a whodunnit in which Dickens has surely created, in Inspector Bucket, one of the greatest fictional detectives in literature - a sort of Poirot and Columbo rolled into one.

It is also a dark, physchological thriller with what has to be one of Dickens' most evil, coldest creations - the lawyer, Tulkinghorn - a cruel and accomplished manipulator of people. Dickens even enters the world of magical realism - when Krook, the rag-and-bottle shop owner, spontaneously combusts, it seems utterly plausible - while other passages are like pure documentary.

Shifting effortlessly between styles and genres - and inventing a few along the way - Dickens has produced one of the great novels and it defies and categorisation. Permeated by a fog of confusion between right and wrong, chaos and order, competing story lines feel their way through the murkiness of sexual tension, child abuse, dpeprivation, obsession, exploitation, unjust justice and murder and leads us to a thrilling conclusion where all the strands become one.

The confusion is mirrored by a real fog, the endless rain and the mud on the streets of London - the characters literally cannot see where they are going. And out of this fog emerges a true, clear vision, Dickens' moral message; that greed invariably leads to self-loathing and self-destruction, whilst those who put others before themselves triumph and survive.

It is a story about survival.

The Dramatisation:
(From the BBC Radio Collection notes.)

In this full-cast dramatisation of Dickens' masterpiece, we have attempted to capture the essence of Dickens' intention and have gone right back to the original notes he used to write the novel. We have had to cut out many of the characters which appear in the novel to allow other characters to be developed fully and this has necessitated some restructuring of the plot and writing of additional bridging scenes. For this is not a reproduction so much as an interpretation of Bleak House.

As in the novel, our drama shifts between two perspectives - Esther's first person experience and interpretation of events and a darker, fly-on-the-wall observer, the roving microphone, which probes beneath the public faces of many of the characters. It is this constant shifting from the involved observer to the cold, dispassionate one which drives the story forward.

From its commission to the final studio mix, this dramatisation has been almost a year in the making. We recorded most of the drama at Chiddingstone Castle in Kent and have used a documentary production style throughout with microphones following the action like cameras, and have recorded entirely outside the artificial environment of a studio where radio drama is traditionally made. Though this is a more complex and expensive approach - especially for period drama, where any overhead planes, lawn mowers or passing cars create a real problem - the benefits can be heard in the subtle performances and in the sense of the place.

For this drama exists in a real place, a world much like our own.

John Dryden - October 1998