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This report is taken from PN Review 168, Volume 32 Number 4, March - April 2006.

Mr Boythorn's Canary Neil Powell

Wot, no fog? There can't have been a Dickensian in the country who wasn't affronted by the murkless opening scenes in the BBC's recent dramatisation of Bleak House. That fog has, after all, a decent claim to be regarded as the most celebrated item of weather in English literature, as essential to the establishment of atmosphere as it is symbolic of the obfuscatory Court of Chancery; it forms, together with the torrential rain in Lincolnshire and the benign sunlight at Bleak House, one panel of the book's opening meteorological triptych. So it takes a courage bordering on the lunatic for a screenwriter - in this case, the ubiquitous Andrew Davies - to dispense with it.

Or perhaps the foglessness was meant as a signpost; for this is a Bleak House which keeps on emphasising its distance from Dickens, the ways in which a television soap opera format of 27-minute episodes isn't at all the same thing as the printed serial of 1853. On its own terms, it's a triumph: wonderfully acted by a diverse and for the most part starry cast, beautifully filmed and brilliantly edited. And its scheduling - twice weekly, following EastEnders - looked like a properly unapologetic piece of cultural education, the sort of thing the BBC is uniquely placed yet so often puzzlingly reluctant to undertake. (It was educational, too, for those of us who accidentally picked up a few tail-ends of


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