Screenwriter Andrew Davies adapts Charles Dickens tale of struggle and hardship in 1820s London.
Little Dorrit is a 2008 British miniseries based on the serial novel of the same title by Charles Dickens, originally published between 1855 and 1857. The screenplay is by Andrew Davies and the episodes were directed by Adam Smith, Dearbhla Walsh, and Diarmuid Lawrence.
The series was a joint production of the BBC and the American PBS member station WGBH Boston. It originally was broadcast by BBC One and BBC HD, beginning on 26 October 2008 with a 60-minute opening episode, followed by 12 half-hour episodes and a 60-minute finale. In the United States, it aired in five episodes as part of PBS Masterpiece series between 29 March and 26 April 2009. In Australia, episodes were combined into seven-parts on ABC1 each Sunday at 8:30pm from 27 June 2010 and has since been repeated on UKTV.
The series won seven Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries.
The series tells the story of Amy Dorrit, who spends her days earning money for the family and looking after her proud father, who is a long term inmate of Marshalsea debtors' prison in London. Amy and her family's world is transformed when her boss's son, Arthur Clennam, returns from overseas to solve his family's mysterious legacy and discovers that their lives are interlinked.
Since her birth, twenty-one-year-old Amy Dorrit has lived in the Marshalsea Prison for Debt, where she cares for her father William, who, having lived there for decades, enjoys a position of privileged seniority. To help her family, she works as a seamstress for Mrs. Clennam, a cranky, cold, forbidding semi-invalid who lives in a crumbling home with her servants, the sinister Jeremiah Flintwinch and his bumbling wife Affery.
Mr. Clennam is ill in China with his son, Arthur. His dying wish is that his remaining family "Puts it right". He gives Arthur a pocket watch to deliver to Mrs. Clennam; Arthur has no idea what this means. He returns to England and gives his mother the watch. She opens it and reads "Do not forget." The plot thickens. Arthur is enamoured of the beautiful Pet Meagles, who favours neer-do-well aspiring artist Henry Gowan, much to the distress of her parents.
Arthur befriends Amy, whose affection grows into romance. John Chivery, who mans the prison gate with his father, watches in dismay. He loves Amy desperately, but alas in vain. Amys brother, Tip, falls into debt and joins his family in prison. Arthur pays his debt. Tip is ungrateful but Amys love grows.
Arthur, observing his mothers uncharacteristically benevolent attitude towards Amy, suspects his family may have been responsible for the Dorrits misfortunes and imprisonment. He asks rent collector and amateur detective Mr. Pancks to investigate the situation.
John Chivery proposes to Amy, who gently declines. This upsets both fathers and threatens to affect Dorrits favored position as the Father of the Marshalsea. Arthur, unaware of Amys love, realizes Pet Meagles prefers the younger Henry Gowan to himself. Arthur proposes to Pet, who regretfully tells him she is to marry Gowan. He meets inventor-engineer Daniel Doyce, and they become business partners.
An ex-convict, Rigaud, meets Flintwinchs twin brother, Ephraim in a tavern. Ephraim has a box containing Mrs. Clennams secret papers, which she had ordered Jeremiah to burn but he had given to Ephraim instead. Rigaud gets Ephraim drunk, murders him, and takes the box.
Mr. Pancks has discovered William Dorrit is heir to a fortune. Dorrit leaves the Marshalsea as a very wealthy man but insists his family forget what he considers to be their shameful past and everyone who was a part of it. He hires the stiff and pretentious Mrs. Hortensia General to educate his daughters and prepare them for their new position in society. They all depart on a Grand Tour of Europe.
William Dorrit is continually upset with Amy, who cannot adapt to the familys new lifestyle.
At the suggestion of Mr. Pancks, Arthur invests in a seemingly successful bank run by a Mr. Merdle.
William Dorrit returns to England and meets Mr. Merdle and discreetly asks him for his advice as to the "prudent investment" of his capital. Mr. Merdle agrees to invest William Dorrits fortune because he "could be considered one of the family now!" Mr. Dorrit is welcomed into some of Londons finest homes but is tormented by his prison memories. He gradually begins to lose his grasp on sanity, and hastily returns to Italy to see his daughter Amy, where he dies in bed. Left alone, Amy returns to London, where she is welcomed in by her newly-married sister Fanny.
Mr. Merdle ends his own life, his suicide note revealing that he was a swindler who had ruined thousands of investors. Among them is Arthur, who is forced into the Marshalsea debtors prison. John Chivery angrily reveals to Arthur that Amy loves him. Arthur then runs a high fever. He is nursed back to health by Amy who offers to pay his debts; he refuses.
Rigaud returns to Mrs. Clennam and reveals what he knows from the stolen documents: Her unloving attitude drove her husband to infidelity, which resulted in a son Arthur, whom Mrs. Clennam raised as her own albeit without any motherly feeling for him. When Arthurs birth mother died, his father, anxious to help someone else who was disadvantaged, bequeathed money to Amy. Rigaud demands Â£2,000 to keep silent, but Mrs. Clennam leaves her house for the first time in years, finds Amy, reveals the truth, and begs her forgiveness. During Mrs. Clennams absence, her dilapidated house literally falls apart and collapses, killing Rigaud. Returning to find her home a pile of rubble, Mrs. Clennam collapses and dies in the street.
The Dorrits learn their money had been invested with Mr. Merdle. Now that Amy is penniless, Arthur can accept her. Their mutual love is declared. Daniel Doyce returns from Russia, where he has made a fortune. He shares his wealth with Arthur. Arthur and Amy become happily wed.
The series was filmed on location at Chenies Manor House, Luton Hoo, and Hellfire Caves in Buckinghamshire; Deal Castle in Kent; Hampton Court Palace in Surrey as the Marshalsea; and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Interiors were filmed in the Pinewood Studios.Claire Foy ..... Amy Dorrit
Matthew Macfadyen ..... Arthur Clennam
Judy Parfitt ..... Mrs. Clennam
Tom Courtenay ..... William Dorrit
Andy Serkis ..... Rigaud / Blandois
Eddie Marsan ..... Mr. Pancks
Emma Pierson ..... Fanny Dorrit
James Fleet ..... Frederick Dorrit
Arthur Darvill ..... Edward "Tip" Dorrit
Anton Lesser ..... Mr. Merdle
Amanda Redman ..... Mrs Merdle
Sebastian Armesto ..... Edmund Sparkler
Alun Armstrong ..... Jeremiah / Ephraim Flintwinch
Sue Johnston ..... Affery Flintwinch
Georgia King ..... Pet Meagles
Alex Wyndham ..... Henry Gowan
Bill Paterson ..... Mr. Meagles
Janine Duvitski ..... Mrs. Meagles
Ruth Jones ..... Flora Casby Finching
John Alderton ..... Christopher Casby
Annette Crosbie ..... Mr Fs Aunt
Zubin Varla ..... Daniel Doyce
Russell Tovey ..... John Chivery
Ron Cook ..... Mr. Chivery
Freema Agyeman ..... Tattycoram
Maxine Peake ..... Miss Wade
Jason Thorpe ..... Jean-Baptiste Cavalletto
Jason Watkins ..... Mr. Plornish
Rosie Cavaliero ..... Mrs. Plornish
Eve Myles ..... Maggy Plornish
Robert Hardy.....Tite Barnacle [Sr]
Darren Boyd.....Tite Barnacle Jr
Pam Ferris ..... Mrs. Hortensia General
Skye Bennett as Girl
Ian McElhinney as Mr. Clennam
In the United Kingdom the series was often compared to Davies Bleak House three years earlier. One reviewer for the Telegraph wrote that "Some of the acting has been a bit too hammy" and blamed falling viewing figures on "confusion over scheduling, starting as an hour long special and then breaking into half an hour episodes, like a Victorian East Enders." - another added that it "doesnt seem to have caught on in the same way as other recent costume dramas such as Cranford and Bleak House", both due to scheduling and also down since "it wasnt quite as good" as these two programmes, though also that "Most of the cast were as reliably terrific". The Independent also praised the performances, especially Courtney, Macfadayen and Peake, whilst another of its reviewers praised Davies adaptation. The Guardian also praised the acting and the adaptation, though with the caveat that "because its Dickens, those top names can get away with a little bit more showing off and look-at-me acting than they would be able to in, say, Jane Austen".
Brian Lowry of Variety observed, "Slow going at first and rushed near the end, its nevertheless an absorbing piece of work, reminding us that there are certain things the Brits simply do better . . . Davies could have easily shed (or at least pared down) a few of [the] subplots without seriously diminishing the storys grandeur, and after the lengthy windup, the last hour races through tying up the assorted loose ends. Even so, theres so much gaudy talent on display here that those with an appetite for it wont be able to get enough, and Little Dorrit gives them everything they could want in a big, gloriously messy package."
Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe felt the series "has so many virtues â€“ indelible performances, stirring pathos, and an emotional and psychological heft unusual for Dickens â€“ that you can forgive its one significant flaw . . . For all its feeling, Little Dorrit does not wrap up well, which is a no-no when it comes to Dickens. Indeed, a Dickens denouement needs to be neat . . . But the loose strings that Davies leaves dangling at the end of this script are frustrating. All the carefully built mystery implodes in the final act, as the importance of a number of characters . . . and the backstory itself are left murky in ways that Dickens made clear . . . Its hard to imagine how this happened in the course of such an otherwise mindful endeavor. And yet Little Dorrit is still rewarding, for the long journey, if not for the final stop."
Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times noted, "Not every character is exactly as described on paper; some dont stay around long enough to register and others who have earned our interest just disappear. And the story can be confusing at times. But all in all, this is a dynamic, addictive rendition of a complicated novel."
Jonathan Storm of the Philadelphia Inquirer stated, "Andrew Davies, who made 2006s Bleak House one of the best TV shows of the year, crafts another superb script, with characters and incidents squeezing out the sides, just the thing to satisfy close observers, which anyone joining this maxi mini-series should be. Costumes, sets, and actors, a broad lot of those super-skilled, terrifically trained Brits, make for sumptuous viewing . . . You pretty much know what to expect when Masterpiece visits the 19th century. But Little Dorrit stands at the high end of a very lofty list of period-piece achievement. Its big entertainment."
In her review in the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley said the series "is as rich at the margins as at the center with strange, and strangely believable, characters from almost all levels of society, rendered in quick, firm strokes," while David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle called it "terrific entertainment . . . in some ways, perhaps even better than its source material."
Awards and nominations
The serial won seven of its eleven nominations at the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Directing for Dearbhla Walsh, and Outstanding Writing for Andrew Davies.