6. The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1993, UK)

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The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Directed and scripted by Timothy Forder, produced by Mary Swindale and Keith Hayley. 1993. VHS. AAE-10070.

These sure­ly must be some of the fastest-mov­ing 98 min­utes in the his­to­ry of the adap­ta­tion of Dick­ens's works for stage and screen. De­spite the fine at­mo­sphere en­gen­dered by film­ing on lo­ca­tion in Rochester, much of the ac­tion seems ex­ces­sive­ly com­pressed and tran­si­tion be­tween scenes is, at best, abrupt, and at worst dis­con­cert­ing, sug­gest­ing that Tim­o­thy Forder in writ­ing the screen­play an­tic­i­pat­ed that his tele­vi­sion au­di­ence would large­ly be com­posed on peo­ple who had al­ready read the novel.

Baz­zard, Grew­gious's (Glyn Hous­ton) con­fi­dant and as­sis­tant, Miss Twin­kle­ton (Gemma Craven), and Luke Hon­eythun­der (Marc Sin­den) are all much re­duced in im­por­tance. No­tably ab­sent from the ac­tion are Tar­tar and his man, Lob­ley, and the mys­te­ri­ous Dick Datch­ery that the 1935 pro­duc­tion had uti­lized so ef­fec­tive­ly to wrap up the mys­tery. Thus, a Crisparkle (Peter Pacey) who very much re­sem­bles the mus­cu­lar and af­fa­ble cler­gy­man of the novel must be the one who brings the vil­lain­ous John Jasper to jus­tice, but not until after the du­plic­i­tous drug-ad­dict has stran­gled his push­er. As in the Charles Dick­ens, Jr., dra­mat­ic adap­ta­tion of 1880, jeal­ous Jasper (Robert Pow­ell), re­gard­ing hand­some Neville Land­less (Ru­pert Rains­ford) as yet an­oth­er in­con­ve­nient bar­ri­er to Rosa's (Finty Williams) af­fec­tions, stran­gles him, leav­ing him for dead, hav­ing at­tempt­ed to make the deed look like a sui­cide. There is, in essence, lit­tle "mys­tery" about the fate of Edwin Drood (Jonathan Phillips) in this film, since he dies at the hands of his uncle, whom we last glimpse in the con­demned cell, strange­ly be­mused by his cap­ture, smil­ing to him­self in a de­ranged man­ner, just as Charles Dick­ens prob­a­bly in­tend­ed. Pe­ri­od cos­tume and au­then­tic set­ting com­pen­sate some­what for the dis­joint­ed nar­ra­tive and the slow­ly built up sus­pense, but, de­spite a solid per­for­mance from Michelle Evans as He­le­na Land­less, she hard­ly seems the strik­ing Eurasian beau­ty of Dick­ens's novel. Equal­ly prob­lem­at­ic is the cast­ing of Nanette New­man as Mrs. Crisparkle, since she looks more like Sep­ti­mus's wife or sis­ter than his moth­er, and is not given suf­fi­cient op­por­tu­ni­ty to play the crotch­ety char­ac­ter of the novel. On the other hand, Glyn Hous­ton is a con­vinc­ing and sym­pa­thet­ic Grew­gious (much re­sem­bling the char­ac­ter as de­pict­ed in Fildes' orig­i­nal 1870 il­lus­tra­tions); Fred­die Jones re­al­izes pre­cise­ly the blus­ter­ing, self-cen­tred, com­pla­cent, xeno­pho­bic bour­geois man of busi­ness, Mayor Sapsea; and Leonard Kirby is a nice blend of the hu­mor­ous and ob­nox­ious in his im­per­son­ation of Dur­dles' as­sis­tant, the street urchin Deputy.

Adding to what are ad­mit­ted­ly quib­bles about cast­ing is the script's em­pha­sis on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Rosa (first seen singing in the cathe­dral con­gre­ga­tion at the open­ing) and John Jasper at the ex­pense of the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Edwin Drood, who re­mains a ci­pher rather than de­vel­ops into a char­ac­ter with whom we can sym­pa­thize even as we ob­ject to some of his sen­ti­ments and man­ners. Jasper con­fides in Edwin early on that he has been tak­ing opium "for the pain," but the script fails to clar­i­fy the source of the pain, other than a cer­tain ennui at his lim­it­ed po­si­tion in life and his chaf­ing against his vo­ca­tion. The young ladies at Miss Twin­kle­ton's are suit­ably giddy, the most je­je­une of all ini­tial­ly being Rosa Bud. There are so in­no­va­tive touch­es that make watch­ing the film worth­while, in­clud­ing the film's bring­ing to life, as it were, many of the orig­i­nal plates from the novel: for ex­am­ple, the scene be­tween Edwin and Rosa which il­lus­tra­tor Luke Fildes en­ti­tled "Under the Trees" is punc­tu­at­ed by Jasper's singing, which un­ac­count­ably up­sets Rosa. He fur­ther dis­con­certs her dur­ing the music recital de­pict­ed in Fildes' "At the Piano" with his Sven­gali-like, ob­ses­sive gaze as she tries to get through her ren­di­tion of what be­comes her sig­na­ture acapel­la song from Sir Wal­ter Scott's (1802)Min­istrelsey of the Scot­tish Bor­der (not men­tioned in the novel), the plain­tiff bal­lad "Annan Water."

http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/drood/cinema.html