Dombey & Son (TV Mini-Series 1983– ) Poster

(1983– )

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Very good, but the final episode lets it down
TheLittleSongbird16 September 2013
Dombey & Son may not be one of Charles Dickens' best books but it is a very worthwhile read and it is one of his most poignant. This adaptation is very good, adaptation-wise and on its own. It is a shame though that the last episode didn't quite maintain the high-quality seen with the previous nine, it felt rushed- Dombey in his humble state needed much more time to develop, an extra episode would have been a good idea, it was too sketchily done here- and the ending was anti-climatic and abrupt. The omission of the James Carker/John Carker/Harriet Carker/Alice Brown subplot was also disappointing, Dombey's redemption was less convincing without it. The adaptation is very evocatively made though and looks very natural and beautiful, the darkness and brightness of the story reflected lovingly in the production values. The haunting and well-used music score convinces also, as does the funny, heartfelt and intelligent dialogue. The storytelling is both poignant and lively, showing fidelity to the source material also. The Victorian sentimentality is kept in control and is believable as a result. Julian Glover is convincingly firm as Dombey, and Lysette Anthony contrasts very well in a sweet and compassionate performance. Shirley Cain is funny and eccentric, and Zelah Clarke is both convincingly short-tempered and warm-hearted. To conclude, very good but the last episode was a little lacking compared to the rest. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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keith-moyes14 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I now have a nearly complete set of BBC Dickens adaptations on DVD. This Dombey and Son is my latest addition.

Overall, I think it is one of the most disappointing, but I find it hard to pin down exactly why. My ideas are still a bit rambling and unformed, so I probably shouldn't be writing anything yet, but there are no other IMDb reviews to help me clarify my own thoughts and someone has to kick off the debate.

Dickens always gives us a rich gallery of striking characters so I guess I must start with the performances.

None of them could be described as bad, but most of them seem slightly off-target and the fact remains that I didn't warm to any of the characters as much as I wanted to.

Julian Glover has the thankless task of trying to make Mr Dombey work. I say 'thankless' because Dickens depicts Dombey as unremittingly arrogant, proud, unfeeling and perpetually neglectful of his daughter. When they are finally reconciled, we can't help feeling that he gets far more than he deserves.

To redeem Dombey, Glover must somehow suggest that he isn't simply cold and heartless but is himself oppressed by a misplaced sense of duty. He has buried his own identity in Dombey and Son and the honour and reputation of the company has become his whole life. We must sense that he is not without feelings but has deliberately suppressed his love for Florence as a distraction from this sacred trust: ultimately he is as much a victim as she is.

The trouble is that Dicken's hasn't given Glover much to work with and neither he nor the director can flesh out intimations that are not fully realised in the book, so the reconciliation loses most of its poignancy.

He is not helped by an inadequate Florence. Florence is consumed by her desperate need to gain her father's affection, but here she seems too composed, so we never fully feel her conflict of loyalties over the growing antagonism between her beloved (but unloving) father and her affectionate stepmother. At times she seems almost as cold and distant as her father. If she had been ten years older, Lysette Anthony could easily have played Edith.

At first, I felt Paul Darrow's Carker might lift the series, but the part is under-written (the loss of the sub-plot concerning his disgraced elder brother doesn't help) and the development of his relationship with Edith is rushed through. In the book it is perplexing but here it seems utterly inexplicable.

As for Edith - could anyone make this strange character work?

Zelah Clarke's Susan Nipper isn't bad, but her compassion is too near the surface. We needed to see a bit more of the angry scolding and prickly belligerence under which she hides her warm heart.

James Cossins has Major Bagstock down to a 'T' but his role in the story needed better definition.

Shirley Cain fails to convince us that the devotion Miss Tox feels for Dombey is genuine. She might easily be the gold-digger that Mrs Chick accuses her of being.

Steve Fletcher was too old for Biler and he doesn't give us enough of his cringing and whining self-pity. When Carker threatens Biler he seems quite capable of sticking a knife in his employer's back.

Barnaby Buik didn't really capture the fey strangeness of young Paul Dombey. Everybody remarks on it ("an old-fashioned child") but his artless directness often seems like simple bad manners.

I could go on, but I think the real problem is how this production deals with the story. Characters are introduced without context and thrown away as it rushes through the plot.

For example, Mr Toots is given one short scene in Brighton, but we see nothing of Mr Blimber's academy so don't know who he is or why he is so infatuated with Florence. Is he really needed at all? Similarly, Major Bagstock (one of my favourite Dickens characters) just appears out of the blue. His prior relationship with Miss Tox is mentioned but not shown and his motives for attaching himself to Dombey are somewhat obscure.

The central love story dies of malnutrition. The grown-up Walter Gay only appears in two of the ten episodes.

Even at five hours it is difficult to do full justice to the richness of a Dickens novel, so focus is essential. You must know what to keep and what to discard and why. This production doesn't, so it actually feels very sketchy. Marginal characters and sub-plots are given too much prominence (Miss Tox and Mrs Chick?) so that essential story elements are starved of screen time. All the key incidents are included but are so pared down that it feels like a précis of the story rather than the story itself.

I think that Dombey is a difficult novel to dramatise. One of it greatest assets is the hallucinatory passage when Carker is fleeing from the wrathful Dombey, but this cannot be captured in a studio-bound production like this. More importantly, the central characters and their relationships are more ambiguous than is normal with Dickens and he never seems quite in control of the story. This leaves this production with a lot to do if it is to find a degree of coherence that I am not sure is in the book. For me, it doesn't achieve this.

At this point I am worried I might be making this production sound worse than it is. It is a bit disappointing, not disastrous. I look forward to reading some more appreciative reviews to get a better sense of balance. However, at this stage I can only record my initial responses and hope that somewhere in the pipeline there is a better Dombey and Son awaiting us.

In the meantime, when will we ever see a Barnaby Rudge?
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Dickens at His Best in this Oft-Overlooked Novel
jackbuckley-2509527 November 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Just finished watching this excellent BBC TV version for the first time. I'd heard of "Dombey & Son" but knew nothing of the story prior to watching. It was a title I usually forgot all about as being in Dickens' opus. I recently read that "Dombey" is the author's least known work, except, perhaps, for his last, the unfinished "Mystery of Edwin Drood". I only have familiarity with the latter due to a 2-part radio production on the American channel Radio Classics, a series from decades ago called either Suspense or something else, I now forget. The radio version formulated its own ending based on clues that Dickens hinted at in his notes. I was intrigued and thoroughly enjoyed. It may be heard on internet via You Tube. Getting back to "Dombey". I was totally absorbed with it, finding it extremely compelling. The fact that it was totally fresh to me may've helped, plus the fact that, now that I'm retired, I've rediscovered great authors and classic literature that I never had time for before. Dickens has re-captivated and re-energized me for marvelous stories and characters. Of course, I've long been partial to period pieces, the 19th- century of Dickens' world being of particular fascination for me. I haven't read the vast majority of his novels, only TV and movie versions(and radio) over the years, but only a small sampling of his output, the most famous titles, such as "Oliver Twist", "Great Expectations", "David Copperfield", etc., and, of course, "A Christmas Carol". In fact, just recently watched the BBC TV versions of "Twist" and "The Pickwick Papers" from the early 80's. Over the last couple of years, I've watched dvds of other titles unfamiliar to me, i.e.,"Hard Times" and "Nicholas Nickelby", both of which were enthralling. In my recent readings about Dickens(with whom I'm currently fascinated and obsessed--where did the stories come from?), "Dombey" was a title occasionally referred to, stimulating my interest in checking it out. I wasn't disappointed. The only downside was the usual difficulty in understanding some of the British accents. This was far from fatal, though, and basically affected nothing. As mentioned, very compelling plot, intriguing characters, high-quality production. Dombey himself, though quite fascinating, was slightly tedious in terms of his cold, austere, mostly silent depiction, though he was never truly unlikeable. Again, he was fascinating. Carker I found unlikeable, as he's meant to be, but I found the actor playing him, though good in the role, somewhat over-mannered in his sliminess, something of a caricature, I guess, but not to the point of cartoonishness. He was much closer to realism than that, conveying insincerity and dishonesty pretty well. I never fully understood what he was up to, which didn't seem to be revealed until the final episode, only casually and briefly in passing. As a viewer, Carker's ultimate fate was totally satisfying. Overall, cast superb--Miss Tocks of particular note, then Mr. Bankstock, Saul Gillis, and especially Captain Cuttle. The young Paul Dombey, Jr. tragically affecting, too. The actress portraying his caring younger sister Florence was fabulous. I found Mr. Toots a rather extraneous, though clumsily likeable, character, of not much, if any, significance to the story. I thought something more was going to come of his infatuation with Dombey's angelic daughter Florence. Ah, Florence, now, there's an actress seemingly born to play the role! Unfortunately, I don't recall the real names of the cast, and am not rechecking. But Florence, long-suffering Florence, was excellent. I believe this actress played a similar role in the BBC TV version of "Oliver Twist", that I recently viewed. I always look forward to every scene in which she appears. She's totally natural and convincing as Florence, just as she was in "Twist"(was her name Ruth in that?). Excellent at conveying various emotions, sometimes more than one at the same time. Edith, her stepmother, good in the role, was an emotionless cipher. Her background relationship with her mother explained this, but it was very difficult if not impossible to have any real sympathy for her, as it no doubt was written. Her double-dealing with Carker, though, was quite plot-effective. Finally, I thought there was a very poignant ending, typically Dickensian, I believe. Yes, it was slightly rushed, I thought, but not seriously so. In some ways, by this point in a story, when the finale appears to be imminent, there's no real need to delve into every nuance of detail and character-motivation. Fate comes to a resolution, whether happy for all or not, on its own schedule. When the end has come, it's come, time to call it a day, all loose ends ready to be tied up. The final rapprochement between Dombey and Florence was beautifully and movingly portrayed, in my opinion. This was a great series, fully illustrating the staggering genius and imagination of Mr. Dickens, for whom I'm still exploring and reading much. Next up for me: the BBC TV version of "Bleak House"! (again, about which I know nothing, the way I prefer it to be for, as with "Dombey", a first-time exposure!)
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