Version: BBC 1998 TV serial (4 parts); starring Keeley Hawes, David Morrissey, Timothy Spall…
Plot Summary: Based on the book by Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend follows the stories of several characters whose lives intersect in life-changing ways. First there is the mysterious stranger John Rokesmith, whom we know is really only living under an alias. Spoiled Bella Wilfur dealt an unfortunate blow by the “death” of her wealthy fiancé. Poor Mr. and Mrs. Boffin, 19th century garbage collectors who unexpectedly inherit a fortune. Lizzie Hexam, the daughter of a violent waterman who robs corpses found in the nearby river. Eugene Wrayburn, an idle man from the wealthy class with no aim in life. And Bradley Headstone, a grim, passionate, and violent man who has overcome his background of poverty to rise to the middle class as a schoolteacher. All of these characters’ lives change when a dead body is found in the River Thames, and a story of secrets, pursuit, and hiding ensues…
My Review: I’ve mentioned before that I don’t read Shakespeare. I also make it a point not to read Dickens. I know, I know—how completely awful of me! I did read A Tale of Two Cities for highschool once, but I’ve just found Dickens to be a little too… symbolic? for me to be able to fully grasp without a commentary. And I don’t like books that require commentaries. That’s just me.
Watching them on film is a different matter. Through the Dickens-movies, I’ve met wonderful characters that only Dickens could create. Lovable people like the Boffins, characters who learn and change and grow like Bella Wilfur, compassionate hearts like Lizzie, and complete out-and-out villains like Silas Wegg. There are such great lessons to be learned in Charles Dickens’ stories that exemplify so many verses from the book of Proverbs!
I’d listened to the BBC radio dramatization of Our Mutual Friend several years ago, but couldn’t remember exactly what happened in it. In this particular film adaption, we have Keeley Hawes as Lizzie Hexam, and a younger David Morrissey as Mr. Headstone, both very good fits. In fact, it was the best role I’ve seen Hawes in.
I felt that for the amount of characters and the typical complicated Dickens plot, I was able to follow the story for the most part, though some parts were unclear to me, for example the part of Lizzie’s stay with Jennie Wren, and how Rogue Riderhood tied in with Lizzie’s father or what happened to Mr. Hexam. Some of the acting was a little stiff and unconvincing. But I could get over it and watched the series completely through, wanting to know what happened next. It was fun watching the relationship of John and Bella develop, and the Boffins were just plain adorable! Fascinating, too, was to watch the dark frame of mind Mr. Headstone lives in, and the obsessive choices he makes. Concerning Eugene Wrayburn: I felt a little unsatisfied with this character, even toward the end of the story, not being completely sure of what Lizzie sees in him.
Viewer beware: I was not prepared for a scene of brief nudity about ¾ of the way through the movie. Other than that, I did not find anything objectionable.
The feel of the film is warm in places, but generally grey and cold, like sunlight through a mostly cloudy day. If you’re in the mood for a longish, twisty-turny classic movie, this will be your cup of tea!
Our Mutual Friend is viewable on YouTube!