A Dickens of a mystery: Countless writers have tried to complete novelist’s unfinished The Mystery Of Edwin Drood. Now BBC2 has had a crack at it
The Mystery Of Edwin Drood is a Charles Dickens story about a choirmaster’s obsession with a beautiful young woman. But a different kind of obsession has developed since Dickens last put pen to paper on the novel 142 years ago: How should the story end
‘Dickens died a little over halfway through the scheduled span of the novel,’ says Anne Pivcevic, executive producer of BBC2’s new two-part adaptation of the tale.
But how will it all end Matthew Rhys' John Jasper spies on Tamzin Merchant's Roda Bud and Tamzin Merchant's Edwin Drood
‘Since then there has been enormous speculation about how he planned to complete it. Nobody can be certain what his aims were, but the writer of our version, Gwyneth Hughes, has gone back to original sources – accounts of conversations Dickens had with friends, letters he wrote, opinions expressed by people who knew him, remarks made by his daughter Kate, even the illustrations on the original book cover – to find out what his intentions were in an attempt to solve one of literature’s great mysteries.
EDWIN DROOD AND FRIENDS (OR ENEMIES)
Rosa Bud (Tamzin Merchant)
Edwin’s beautiful teenage fiance, whose intended marriage has been arranged by Rosa and Edwin’s fathers.
Edwin Drood (Freddie Fox)
A privileged, somewhat vain young man who plans to marry Rosa.
But he isn’t sure she’s as committed to marriage as he is, and arguments begin brewing.
John Jasper (Matthew Rhys)
opium-addicted choirmaster at Cloisterham Cathedral who develops an
unhealthy obsession with his 17-year-old music student Rosa Bud.
Neville Landless (Sacha Dhawan)
A visitor to Cloisterham from Ceylon, he’s a beautiful, poised young man with a fiery temper.
Helena Landless (Amber Rose Revah)
Neville’s twin sister, she finds it hard to adapt to Cloisterham but becomes firm friends with Rosa.
Reverend Septimus Crisparkle (Rory Kinnear)
A cleric at Cloisterham Cathedral who is the light to John Jasper’s darkness.
'And I think she’s come up with a
fascinating and very clever ending to Dickens’ novel with a big, central
idea at the heart of her story.’
Matthew Rhys – the Welsh star of hit US
drama Brothers & Sisters – plays provincial choirmaster John Jasper,
a man increasingly obsessed by the beautiful and innocent 17-year-old
Rosa Bud. The opium to which he’s addicted is slowly destroying his mind
and making his mood swings increasingly pronounced.Which is bad news for his nephew Edwin Drood, the target for his hatred. Freddie Fox, who plays Drood, says, ‘My character is engaged to Rosa and Jasper believes he stands in the way of the woman he loves and about whom he obsesses. I don’t think it’s going too far to say Jasper has a murderous hatred of Drood.’
The Reverend Crisparkle, a goodnatured cleric – a kind of Victorian version of Rev’s Adam Smallbone – provides light relief, but this is definitely one of Dickens’ darker works, with much of the action taking place at night in the candlelit Cloisterham Cathedral, where Jasper schemes to snare Rosa. He also develops an unhealthy obsession with the graves there, at one point instructing the stonemason, Durdles, to give him a tour of the tombs.
Adding spice to the mix is the arrival from Ceylon of hot-tempered Neville Landless and his twin sister Helena – especially when Neville himself indicates a soft spot for Rosa, putting him on a collision course with both Jasper and Drood.
The BBC are keeping the second part of the drama secret in case somebody gives away the ending.
Gwyneth imposed her own ban – stopping herself reading the many attempts there have been to complete Dickens’ novel, which he left unfinished after a fatal stroke on June 8, 1870 – so as not to influence her own conclusion.
In 1873, American writer Thomas James claimed his version really was ghost-written, as he was channelling Dickens’ spirit while he wrote. More recently, there have been movie and musical Edwin Droods, including a West End production in the late 1980s starring Ernie Wise.
Diarmuid Lawrence, director of the new version, believes the appeal of Drood lies not only in the intrigue over its ending but in the way the story speaks to modern audiences. ‘What could be more contemporary than drug-taking and stalking’
Rochester Cathedral in Kent was used
for the exterior of Cloisterham Cathedral, but interior scenes were
filmed at the 12th-century Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great in
the City Of London.
It has also been used as a location for Four Weddings And A Funeral, Shakespeare In Love, Spooks and The League Of Gentlemen
The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, BBC2, Tuesday at 9pm.