A Dickens of a Christmas kicks off before the author”s bicentenary
Dickens mania: Ray Winstone as Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations
The BBC is going Charles Dickens crazy before his bicentenary in February.
The first of its adaptations are Great Expectations on December 27 and parody The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff on December 19.
Tim Oglethorpe and Nicole Lampert go behind the scenes.
BBC1 Tuesday, December 27, Wednesday, December 28 and Thursday, December 29 at 9pm.
THE PROGRAMME: Three-part adaptation by Sarah Phelps of the novel about the life of orphan Pip.
THE STARS: Douglas Booth — Boy George in the BBC film Worried About The Boy — plays orphan Pip, from his teenage years onwards.
X Files star Gillian Anderson is Miss Haversham, Ray Winstone plays Magwitch and David Suchet is the secretive lawyer Jaggers.
THE COST: An estimated 3.75 million.
THE STORY: Pip is brought up by his domineering sister Mrs Joe (Claire Rushbrook) and her blacksmith husband Joe Gargery (Shaun Dooley).
His kindness towards escaped convict Magwitch will have major consequences.
Seeking company for her adopted daughter Estella, Miss Haversham requests Pip visit her fading mansion, Satis.
It’s Pip’s first taste of a more genteel existence, that he’ll become accustomed to when given a fortune by a mystery benefactor.
THE FILMING: The BBC built the Gargery cottage and forge on marshland near Tollesbury in Essex.
Interior scenes, at The Gargery House and at the forge, were shot at Luton Hoo Farm in Bedfordshire.
Holdenby House in Northamptonshire doubled as Miss Haversham’s crumbling mansion.
The owner James Lowther says: ‘The BBC used 80 tonnes of mud, weeds and creepers to turn the outside of Holdenby into decaying Satis House.’
Different role: X Files star Gillian Anderson is Miss Haversham (pictured at a photography gala in London)
AUTHENTICITY: It’s a serious version. Ray Winstone insisted on performing all his own stunts as Magwitch, which meant him spending hours caked in mud, while filming escape and fight scenes on the Essex marshes.
‘They weren’t much fun to do,’ he says.
‘The novelty of having mud in your mouth soon wears off.’
Shaun Dooley attended two courses on blacksmithing to play Joe Gargery.
‘I learnt how to handle the metal, and made a metal leaf, a poker and a toasting fork,’ he says.
Gillian Anderson used two wigs and three wedding dresses to portray Miss Havisham, who remains dressed for her big day, despite being cruelly dumped by her fianc many years before.
‘I also used a bald cap because Miss Haversham has eventually lost so much hair, you can see through to her scalp,’ she says .
THE SELL: ‘It’s a cracking story with timeless themes, such as envy, jealousy, ambition and the search for happiness,’ says Winstone.
THE BLEAK OLD SHOP OF STUFF
One-hour Christmas special on BBC2 on December 19 at 8.30pm. There will be three further episodes in January.
THE PROGRAMME: A parody of a mixture of Dickens novels, written by Mark Evans, the man behind Peep Show.
THE STARS: The Peep Show’s Robert Webb stars as Jedrington Secret-Past and the IT Crowd’s Katherine Parkinson is his wife.
The Artful Codger: The oldest urchin in town because he never passed his criminal exams
Stephen Fry is evil lawyer Skulkingworm, Celia Imrie Miss Christmasham, Johnny Vegas the Artful Codger.
Jedrington’s uncle and aunts (named after key virtues) are Richard Johnson (Uncle Writes-Prompt-Thank-You-Cards), Una Stubbs (Aunt Good Spelling) and Phyllida Law (Aunt Sobriety).
THE COST: About 1 million.
THE STORY: Nice but dim Jedrington, owner of the The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff, and his family are evicted from their home on Christmas Eve by Malifax Skulkingworm and forced into debtors’ prison The Skint.
Distraught Mrs Secret-Past becomes addicted to treacle.
Help comes from the Artful Codger, the oldest urchin in town because he never passed his criminal exams. Is there more to Secret-Past’s history than meets the eye
THE FILMING: Bound by tighter constraints than most costume dramas, the film was made on set on a former trading estate near Wembley, with cobble stones made out of foam.
AUTHENTICITY: ‘It’s not much of a tweak from the real comedy of Dickens,’ insists Robert Webb. ‘Dickens was a funny writer.’
THE SELL: The first historical comedy since Blackadder. Celia Imrie says: ‘It’s parody, but it is also very very clever.’
WATCH OUT FOR . . .
An adaptation of The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, Dickens’s unfinished novel, starring Matthew Rhys and Freddie Fox, which will air on BBC2 early in the New Year.