It is a much repeated saying that if Dickens was around today he would be writing for Eastenders. Personally, despite him being a Londoner, I have always thought his melodramatic tragi-comedy would have made him more of a Coronation Street fan, but the point still stands. He was a very talented writer, albeit one who strayed into soapy territory at times.

So what if Dickens novels were made into soap operas? How would characters from different novels interact with each other? Well wonder no more, dear people, because Dickensian is that very thing. The brainchild of Eastenders writer Tony Jordan, it is a melting pot of Dickens novels, including (but not limited) to Bleak House, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.

On the surface it is a bit of an odd fish. At times it seems to be an origins tale, explaining how Miss Havisham became the eternal bride, and how Lady Dedlock became married to a man she never loved. This is all well and good, but anyone familiar with the novels would know what the ending of the journeys is, meaning that as much as you want to change the course of the characters journey, you can’t. Amelia will get duped, Honoria will never marry her sweetheart. Whilst it is fascinating to watch their lives steadily reach the point where we meet them at the start of the books, it is also painful.

Far more interesting is the plot that steps out of the books much more, namely the murder of Jacob Marley. The characterisation of Inspector Bucket is beautifully done, Stephen Rea playing him as a quiet, monotonous man who still exudes enough of a threatening air to make him feared by criminals as opposed to the joke he could so easily become. Admittedly the fact that everyone is a suspect (a different episode puts a different character under the microscope) makes this slightly labourious, but it is bubbling away nicely. Maybe it will be solved if he gets his wife to help him, like in Bleak House.

There are other plots too of varying importance and interest: Sikes’ wooing of Nancy (we all know how that ends up), the Bumbles’ social climbing, Mrs Gamp’s hunt for gin. Overall, it is an interesting cauldron of ideas, although how everything is going to fit in to 20 episodes without something being lost is a big question.

Having said that, it would be interesting to see a second series following other plots. I’ve always wondered what became of Mortimor Lightwood and Eugene Wrayburn after the latter married. I always pictured Lightwood as being in love with Wrayburn and speculate on how he would fare relegated to the status of third wheel. And then there is those mentioned but so far not seen in the first series, in particular Uriah Heap and Mr Tulkinghorn, both of whom cast such powerful shadows in their books.

Anyway, I digress. At the end of the day, this is a fascinating and well-executed programme. It is both safe (who doesn’t love a bonnet drama?) yet daring in such a way that only the BBC can pull off. It somehow saves itself from being silly by tight writing, strong characters and irresistible plots. Not unlike Dickens’ novels themselves, then.

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