Little Dorrit (1987) ***** Starring: Derek Jacobi, Sarah Pickering, Alec Guinness, Roshan Seth. Writer/Director: Christine Edzard. Running time: About six hours.
Based on Charles Dickens reportedly satirical novel about being rich or poor in Victorian society.
Part one—the three hour It’s Nobody’s Fault—is seen through the eyes of Arthur Clennam (Derek Jacobi), who becomes involved with the business of William Dorrit (Alec Guinness) and William’s daughter, Little Dorrit (Sarah Pickering), who is the seamstress of Clennam’s mother.
The Doritt’s are in a debtor’s prison—meaning they must pay back what they owe before they can be free. But Clennam aims to help them get out, by doing some investigating, with the help of a lawyer.
Part two is Little Dorrit’s Story, much the same storyline as part one, but told through the ‘eyes’ of Little Dorrit (or Amy).
Scene after scene is framed to see the second half through the perspective of Little Dorrit (who is called Amy under different circumstances in a significant shift of setting).
One finds respect for her, her kindness, genuineness, good manners and even temperament standing out, which made quite an impression.
The actual logistics of undertaking a film told from two character’s perspectives would be painstaking to produce, but effective in the end.
I loved the cast and characters. With a sprawling cast, Little Dorrit is filled with good performances and interesting characters.
As Clennam, Derek Jacobi exudes a youthful air. Clennam’s fineness and reserve is the surface but he is secretly in love. Clennam’s also impeccably generous which reveals nobility.
As Cleenam’s mother, Joan Greenwood is frightfully straightforward. Her reading of the Bible is of a punitive passage in the book of the prophets at exactly eight o’clock and no bible context is given.
Alec Guinness plays the gentlemanly head of the debtor’s prison. He sweeps those up in his conversation and is the object of adoration of Little Dorrit.
One has a certain amount of sympathy for William Dorrit, as he is someone the story sides with, especially evident in the final scenes which by the way are breathtakingly good.
With her bubbly personality and effervescence in a reserved society, Miriam Margolyes as Flora Finching stands out in the sense that she seems out of place, but in a good way.
Roshan Seth’s exuberance is catching, his cockney accent a change of pace from his refinement in Gandhi and a villain’s off-colour charm in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
The dialogue and interactions are sophisticated, more or less; may require one’s full concentration. Little Dorrit is more literate than most. An impressive production in the scale of storytelling despite the setting limitations, and ultimately striking one at the heart, of the gentleness and care of its central feature, Little Dorrit.
There is authentic production design, mostly indoors, which may be too wooden for some tastes, and there are timely costumes (the 1800’s), with the occasional flare for cinematic storytelling.