`Our Mutual Friend` (1976) is a faithful portrayal of the final novel by Charles Dickens written in the years 1864-1865, at a time when England was at the peak of Victorian social segregation. Dickens has often been criticised for rushing the end of this novel, however this is not apparent in this BBC production of 1976. It is a wonder why this dramatisation has taken so long to become available on DVD as this BBC drama adaptation is like none other with its collaboration of cast, set design and an expert director.
This dramatisation was produced at a time when we saw a surge of BBC novel-based serials. It takes us into the Dickensian world of 19th Century with characters, as is the custom of Dickens, depicting elements of human nature to its fullest. It is a story surrounding money, ambition and financial and moral values.
The main plot surrounds the character of John Harmon (John McEnery) who appears under the name of John Rokesmith as Harmon is believed drowned. Rokesmith resides as a secretary at the home of the jolly Mr and Mrs Boffin. The Boffins are the inheritors of Harmon’s father’s will in the event that Harmon does not, for whatever reason, marry Bella Wilfer (Jane Seymour) who also resides at the home of the Boffins and who, initially for appearance within society, mourns for Harman her dead fiancé, a man she has never met.
Bella’s outwardly desire for money frustrates Rokesmith as he falls in love with her knowing that she is oblivious to his real name and character, and therefore his entitlement to his inheritance. He keeps up his pretence through his pain of unrequited love and admires her from afar while trying to maintain his professional relationship within the home of the Boffins.
This is one of Dickens most atmospherically dark offerings as from the beginning we are looking for the financial remains of drowned seaman in the river. The small boat being rowed by the character of Lizzy Hexham (Lesley Dunlop), a young woman who lives in the throws of practical domesticity with her father, the passenger of the wretched boat Gaffer Hexham (Duncan Lamont) who is accused of the murder of Harman by a fellow waterman. The other person to whom Lizzy is devoted to is her brother Charley (Jack Wild), a young scholar and loving brother, until his determination to better his own prospects, under the academic influence of the psychotic school master Bradley Headstone (Warren Clarke) takes over.
After Gaffer Hexham is found drowned Lizzy finds life difficult and things can only get worse. She her friend Jenny Wren, the wretched dolls dressmaker, both shudder at the way Mr Headstone tries to force his emotions on Lizzy. This develops into a feud between Headstone and Eugene Wrayburn (Nicholas Jones) the hansom and wealthy barrister, who pursues her for himself.
Jane Seymour gives a fair portrayal of Bella, although this often seems unnecessarily strained and therefore the character of Bella is slightly less convincing in her ridged tone of voice and movements than the rest of the cast. It is Warren Clarke who captures the admiration of the viewer with his intense portrayal of the madness of Headstone.
Also outstanding is Polly James in the personality of the cripple Jenny Wren. We are thrown into the midst of her pain seeing her battling with her inner demons as well as her physical inflictions, as she is contrasted with the silhouettes of her perfectly formed dolls which hang in her shop window.
We are also brought into this fascinating story with the help of other superb actors such as Ronald Lacey who convincingly plays the malevolent Mr Venus, the `Articulator of human bones`. The set is more than appropriate to the work of Mr Venus as he surrounds himself in his room with human skulls, skeletons, and carcasses of the animal kingdom.
The effect of the malevolent forces within the set of this production is also helped along by actor Brian Wilde in his portrayal of the night inspector, the atmosphere on set can also be credited to the talented Peter Hammond, the director of this eerie creation.
This production initially takes some concentration by the viewer as is the case with many Dickensian dramatisations with its eccentric characters with their divided lifestyles and morals, it is a story surrounding web of scattered individuals who come together to become a society driven by poverty and ambition. However, the storyline begins to flow with as much simplicity as is possible under narrative in the novels of Dickens. A must see for all scholars of the work of Charles Dickens and for those interested in historical BBC dramatisations of the 1970`s.
Michelle Ross (Fagin’s girl).