Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Mystery of Edwin Drood - review

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a two-part BBC TV adaptation of Charles Dickens' last, unfinished novel. It's a very long time since I read the original, but it's always fascinated me that Dickens moved in the direction of the crime and mystery genre in the later part of his career. Bleak House is one of my favourite novels, not only because of its portrayal of legal life, and the endless litigation of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, but also because of the part played by Inspector Bucket, a splendid character. Dickens was, like his friend Wilkie Collins, very interested in true crime, as well as having his imagination sparked by an element of mystery.

I've often wondered if, had he lived, Dickens would have made a greater contribution to the development of the crime genre - it is, surely, highly probable. In the past, I've published two short stories featuring the great man, once detecting alongside Collins, and once in partnership with Elizabeth Gaskell. They were great fun to write, and one of these days, I might do another.

Back to the BBC TV show. The screenplay was written by Gwyneth Hughes, who once wrote a screenplay for The Mrs Bradley Mysteries, in which Diana Rigg was unexpectedly cast as Gladys Mitchell's saurian detective. But the mood here was far removed from Golden Age territory - it was dark, hallucinatory and (or is there a twist up Hughes' sleeve?) a study of crime rather than a whodunit.

Matthew Rhys was impressive as the opium-tormented John Jasper, and Freddie Fox, from the famous acting family, played Edwin. The first episode began with a nightmare and ended with a killing. Yet the action was stripped down and this meant that the development of the story was not as labyrinthine as I'd rather expected. Writing this post immediately after watching, I still feel as though I want to mull over my reaction to this particular take on the story. But it has gripped me sufficiently for me to be keen to watch episode two tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Thanks for the fine review. One usually doesn't think of Dickens as a crime and mystery author but had he lived, he very well might have been. I'm glad to hear that this adaptation was well done.

Sarah said...

I've just finished watching this too Martin. I thought some of the acting wonderful, particularly from Matthew Rhys. I haven't read the book but it is a shame that Dickens's intentions are unclear. I'm really looking forward to part 2.

Christos G. Makrypoulias said...

You should check out (if you haven't done so already) Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens.

Elisabeth said...

I enjoy the BBC adaptation of Dickens's work enormously. I'd say I am addicted to all things period and BBC. So I look forward very much to this one, Edwin Drood.

Of course it'll be ages before it gets to us here in Australia. Thanks for passing on the knowledge in such a terrific post.

seana graham said...

I hope this comes this way, though I haven't read this one. I'm glad he's getting some new play, on the bicentenary.

Maxine Clarke said...

I was not sure whether to watch this as I have invariably had bad experiences when reading other people's endings to books (or other people's sequels to them). But you make it sound rather tempting.

Martin Edwards said...

I'm grateful for these reactions.
Christos, someone else told me Matthew Pearl's books are very good as well, so I am sure I should take a look, as you say.
Elisabeth, good to hear from you.
Sarah, I agree he was excellent.
Maxine, for me the jury is still out. I would appreciate a twist in the narrative, and am keeping my fingers crossed!

Dorte H said...

As I like Bleak House and love Our Mutual Friend, I don´t know why I have never got round to reading Edwin Drood. Though I share Maxine´s reservation, I should read the last work of one of my favourite authors.