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Bleak House(TV) (2005)
Out of an interminable court case spin three young people, each searching for their place in the world. The story moves fast – swirling through an incredible array of characters from passionate young lovers, from an ice-cold aristocratic beauty to a shrewd, relentless detective – until the final thrilling climax.
For more about Bleak House and the Bleak House Blu-ray release, see Bleak House Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on May 7, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Directors: Justin Chadwick, Susanna White
Writer: Andrew Davies (I)
Starring: Gillian Anderson, Patrick Kennedy, Carey Mulligan, Nathaniel Parker, Sevan Stephan, Charles Dance
» See full cast & crew
Bleak House Blu-ray Review
Another stunning revival from the BBC...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, May 7, 2009
Ah, Dickens. More than the intensely-popular 19th century novelist high school teachers profess him to be, more than the fascinating social commentator college professors discuss at length, and more than the groundbreaking author of well-known classics like The Adventures of Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations, Charles Dickens is perhaps one of the most talented writers to ever explore the socioeconomic plights of his people. Weaving endearing characters together with mesmerizing tales of love and loss, the Victorian mastermind's writing continues to capture the imagination of modern readers. Even so, his ninth (and arguably finest) novel, Bleak House, has largely been overlooked by literature enthusiasts who tend to stick to Dickens' more familiar and accessible works.
Leave it to the artisans at the BBC to step in and resurrect another nearly forgotten Victorian masterpiece. Bleak House follows the struggles of three orphans embroiled in a long-standing inheritance dispute -- Esther Summerson (Anna Maxwell Martin), a modest young woman haunted by her mysterious and possibly illegitimate birth; Richard Carstone (Patrick Kennedy), a well-intentioned ward who becomes obsessed with the outcome of the case; and his cousin, Ada Clare (Carey Mulligan), a beautiful girl caught between her loyalties and affections. Their guardian, a kind and wealthy nobleman named John Jarndyce (Denis Lawson), works tirelessly to protect them from the ongoing legal battles, but begins to realize this "family curse" will inevitably affect them in ways they cannot comprehend. As secrets furiously surface in the case, the orphans have to contend with the wiles and lies of Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson), Esther's haughty aunt; Mr Tulkinghorn (Charles Dance), a scheming family lawyer who meets an untimely end; William Guppy (Burn Gorman), an indecisive clerk smitten with Esther; Harold Skimpole (Nathaniel Parker), a selfish and irresponsible manipulator; and Mr. Smallweed (Philip Davis), a vile and reprehensible moneylender.
With countless storylines and subplots (too dense and intricate to dissect here), as well as a steady stream of secretive, backstabbing characters, Bleak House was probably an absolute nightmare to adapt for television. Even with eight hours and fifteen episodes, it would be nearly impossible to retain every nuanced aspect of Dickens' novel (itself published in twenty monthly installments over the course of two years). Thankfully, Pride and Prejudice screenwriter Andrew Davies was up to the task. As conceived by Davies and the BBC, Bleak House is a rapid-fire tour de force that effortlessly bounds through the lives of countless characters like a slick stone skimming a pond. Sure, minor elements in the book have been cut or changed -- the misadventures of bit characters like Mr. Jellyby and Tony Jobling have been axed, the Bagnets are gone, and Davies has created a composite character named Clamb to streamline certain aspects of the tale -- but I was wholeheartedly impressed with how faithfully the series captures the essence of everything that remains. Through it all, the production team effectively summons the spirit of Dickens to inhabit each scene; regardless of whether the series touches on drama, intrigue, or comedy, the author's charming wit, eye for satire, and ear for dialogue is present at all times.
And I haven't even mentioned the actors yet. Martin, Kennedy, and Mulligan seem to lift every expression and emotion from Dickens' text, yet infuse their characters with altogether modern complexities. Esther's illness takes on an unsettling life of its own amidst Martin's meek reactions, Richard's desperation reaches a fervored authenticity with Kennedy's every frantic grasp, and Ada's devotion is even more effectual when paired with Mulligan's soft-spoken grace. Better still, the villains are deliciously devious in their own separate ways, while Anderson reigns in her heart and soul to produce one of the best performances of her career. While their exemplary efforts are occasionally undermined by the series' oft-times breakneck pacing (too many abrupt asides rob key scenes of their ability to resonate), each performance manages to elevate the production and the source text. I could even see a handful of viewers being disappointed by how quickly the camera sometimes pulls away from its subjects, but it generally left me wanting to learn more about each one.
Could Bleak House have used another fifteen minutes per episode? Of course... but any additional time (if not allotted precisely and perfectly) would have only served to limit the characters' more ambiguous traits and the story's sense of urgency. As far as I'm concerned, the series is a resounding success in almost every way. It not only makes it easy to care about its band of corrupt clerks, murderous manipulators, and passive victims, it crafts an engaging morality tale around something as dull and dreary as 19th century English Chancery law. No small task indeed.
Bleak House Blu-ray, Video Quality
Despite an at-times uneven 1080i/VC-1 transfer, the Blu-ray edition of Bleak House proves its worth with an above average presentation that should satisfy anyone willing to overlook a few relatively minor blemishes. First the good. Directors Justin Chadwick and Susanna White populate their palette with (don't say bleak... don't say bleak...) drab and lifeless colors, but skintones are spot on, candle-lit interiors are exceedingly warm, and contrast is comfortably stark. Blacks are also deep and fully resolved, imbuing the series' well-delineated shadows with a rich, natural quality. Moreover, depth is convincing and dimensionality is commendable. Sadly, even though the episodes were shot using high definition cameras, detail is somewhat hit-or-miss. Overall clarity is impressive -- objects are sharply defined (sadly with the help of some edge enhancement), hair and stubble look great, and designer Andrea Galer's elaborate costumes have been rendered with care -- but too many fine facial and fabric textures have been wiped away by overzealous digital scrubbing. Likewise, the picture is quite clean, but faint artifacting interferes with the technical integrity of close-ups. While I doubt most viewers will be seriously distracted by any such shortcomings, each one holds Bleak House back from reaching the heights of BBC Video's stunning Cranford transfer.
All things considered, Bleak House looks pretty good (particularly for a television production presented in 1080i), but suffers from too many fundamental issues to wow anyone who isn't already engrossed by the story.
Bleak House Blu-ray, Audio Quality
While it unfortunately adheres to the two-channel, nuts-n-bolts audio presentation of the series' television broadcast, Bleak House features a hearty (albeit slightly unspectacular) LPCM stereo track (1.5 Mbps) that handles what little it's given without succumbing to any major technical mishaps. Dialogue is crisp, clean, and intuitively prioritized amongst other elements in the soundscape, bass tones are surprisingly weighty (considering the LFE channel isn't utilized), and effects remain stable and balanced throughout the production. The result is undeniably flat and front-heavy, but it bests most of the stereo presentations I've reviewed. I do wish Bleak House delivered the multi-channel polish and prowess of Cranford, but its LPCM stereo track nevertheless emerges as a noteworthy addition to this release.
Bleak House Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Arriving with the same solid collection of special features as the new Special Edition DVD, the 3-disc Blu-ray release of Bleak House includes much more content than its 2006 barebones-DVD counterpart. While the material is a bit repetitive (and presented in lowly standard definition), fans looking to dig into the details of the production should be fairly pleased with BBC Video's supplemental package.
Bleak House Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The classy minds behind the BBC certainly know how to handle classic literature. Bleak House is a sprawling adaptation that shouldn't work as a television miniseries, yet manages to capture the imagination, allow viewers to genuinely invest in the lives of its 19th century characters, and maintains its unexpectedly energetic momentum for eight hours. Its 3-disc Blu-ray debut may not be as reliable, but it's definitely the version Dickens enthusiasts will want to own. It features an above average problematic video transfer, a decent (albeit forgettable) LPCM stereo track, and a welcome set of supplemental materials. All in all, it overshadows both the 2006 barebones and 2009 Special Edition DVD releases, delivers a compelling, critically acclaimed Dickens adaptation, and is available for a very reasonable price. If Bleak House is the sort of production that registers on your radar, purchasing this Blu-ray release should be a no-brainer.
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Bleak House Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Bleak House Coming to Blu-ray - January 7, 2009
BBC Home Entertainment in conjunction with Warner Home Video have announced that they will bring the BBC mini-series 'Bleak House' to Blu-ray on May 5th, day-and-date with the DVD re-release. The series, which is based on a Charles Dickens' novel, features Gillian ...
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