The Letters of Evil


I’ve been round the bend and back again. How many episodes of Bleak House are there? Fifteen. Also, there are eight. In Britain, the show started with an hour-long episode, followed by fourteen half-hour episodes, to emulate the style of a soap opera — the show was shown after EastEnders. The ABC are showing it in eight episodes, with the fourteen half-hour episodes joined together. This has all been terribly confusing for a poor bastard trying to write reviews with the help of an episode guide that tells him of things that happened one and a half episodes ago. If that confusion has spread over into this review, I apologise. But I’d best catch up.

Things seemed a bit slow in the first two (three) episodes, so I was concerned — but once people start spontaneously combusting, you know things are going well.

Week Three. Damn, that Richard is irritating. He may be the most irritating character I’ve seen on television this year — and remember, I’ve been watching the Stargates recently. Having chickened out of being a doctor, he now finds that he hasn’t even the application to become a lawyer — though he does find himself quite interested in the case from which he could potentially be awarded thousands,1 Jarndyce and Jarndyce.2

Meanwhile, the ruined and depressed Mr Gridley, who pretty much has a sign over his head saying “THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU,” has previously cursed the deliciously evil Mr Tulkinghorn in public. It’s pretty clear now that this action is not dissimilar to flapping one’s testicles in the face of a lion. There’s a warrant and he’s on the run. Inspector Bucket tracks him down in Sergeant George’s gym but Gridley cunningly escapes by dying.

Week Four. This is the episode where things really pull you in. It must be very relaxing to adapt a novel to television.3 Free of the hassles of cutting and keeping people constantly occupied, you can spend three episodes setting all your characters up in the same neat way that the book did, and then start moving them about after that. The snivelling but surprisingly promising Mr Guppy visits Lady Dedlock with an eye to helping out Esther. He’s not much of a champion, but Lady Dedlock isn’t exactly spoiled for choice. He goes to get the incriminating love letters to Mr Nemo from Krook, but rather unfortunately, Krook has exploded.

It is at this point that Guppy miserably fails to retrieve the letters. Idiot!

Esther meanwhile has developed smallpox. Serves her right for living so long ago. I feel manipulated. It’s textbook stuff. Give the cutest, most selfless person in the story a horrid disease. She survives, but as a result her cuteness goes slightly down and her selflessness goes way up. She’s also attracted the attention of Lady Dedlock, who is either secretly her mother, or develops very deep bonds with complete strangers very quickly. Anna Maxwell Martin has been lovely, but Gillian Anderson is great in this episode. So much restrained emotion, you’d think she really was British.

So we’re halfway through… ish… and everyone’s set. But there’s a problem. Tulkinghorn is really clever and all the nice people are a bit hopeless. Who can stand up to him? The hot-headed Sergeant George? The weedy Guppy? The kindly but slightly mysterious John Jarndyce? I fear for everyone.

  1. Remember inflation.
  2. I still have no idea what exactly this court case started with. I almost wish we had a “Previously, on Bleak House.” Perhaps I should just read the book.
  3. Probably not true.

2 Responses to “The Letters of Evil”

  1. I’m sorry to hear Krook has exploded. I didn’t know him but explosion isn’t a very nice way to go.

  2. It was highly humourous. He drank so much gin he spontaneously combusted. The scene where this was discovered was amusingly grotesque.