Martin Chuzzlewit (1994)

January 31, 2012 4 Comments

that Dickens’ 200th birthday is in 2012, I figured it’d be a good
time to post some reviews of his book-to-screen movie adaptations that were
brought to life by BBC. As someone who thinks Charles Dickens is a great
storyteller and a girl who loves all things that might be related to costume
dramas, seeing this displaced movie seemed like a good idea. After much
research and reading of reviews, I was thrilled to find Martin Chuzzlewit. While this story is less-intelligent than some
of Dickens’ other works, it is still a complex enjoyable story that leaves you
guessing until the end.

Chuzzlewit (Paul Scofield) is a wealthy man with an old well-known family name.
Right now, he is travelling with his companion and nurse Mary Graham (Pauline
Turner). Since Mr. Chuzzlewit isn’t in the best health he has decided to get
his will in order, leaving his fortune to his beloved grandson and namesake
Martin (Ben Waden). After learning that Martin has fallen in love with Mary,
Mr. Chuzzlewit disinherits him and forbids a match between the two. In
families, news travels fast and when Mr. Chuzzlewit’s dozens of relatives learn
that his sole heir has been disinherited they become greedy with the prospect
of becoming his new heir. The scheming hypocritical Seth Pecksniff (Tom
Willkinson) – a cousin to the elder Chuzzlewit is the most determined relative
to get named in the will. With the assistance of his two daughters – the
self-centered Mercy (Julia Sawalha) and dull-witted Charity (Emma Chambers), Pecksniff
devices a plan to “protect” Mr. Chuzzlewit from his evil grandson.

young Martin comes to terms that his grandfather is not going to change his
mind, he decides to leave for America to make his fortune along with an
acquaintance and travelling companion Mark Tapley (Steve Nicolson). Without
means to marry the good-hearted Mary, Martin makes plans to send for her once
he has made his fortune and is established. Fearing that his grandfather might
discover his correspondence with Mary, he sends his letters in care of his
friend Tom Pinch (Phillip Franks). Also playing a crucial role in the
Chuzzlewit family search for a fortune is Jonas Chuzzlewit (Keith Allen). As
nephew to old Mr. Chuzzlewit, Jonas is already party to his own fortune being
the sole heir and only son of Anthony Chuzzlewit (also played by Paul
Schofield), Martin’s brother. Still a greedy, obnoxious man, he will stop at
nothing to gain what he wants.
films from the BBC that predate the middle 90’s are… well, dated. They are not
usually up to standards with what comes from the Brits nowadays. Somehow though,
this particular BBC Classic rises above the barrier just enough that it is
still an entertaining piece of film work. Producers and casting agents
assembled a grand lot of talent for this despite its lesser known status. Paul
Scofield was just marvelous; his performance leaves you guessing the entire
time if he really is just a generous man who wants to do right by his grandson
or if he’s one of the villains. Then we come to Julia Sawalha’s performance.
Who doesn’t recognize that name? As
Mercy, she plays a much better, more suited role than she did in Pride and Prejudice (Lydia). I felt that
she gave a more mature emotional performance that served the actress well (even
though Pride and Prejudice was post Martin Chuzzlewit, ironic, no?). At the
beginning of the story she’s a foolish, silly girl who thinks she has the world
at her feet, by the end, because of unfortunate circumstances, she’s learned
how cruel the world and the people in it can be. One of my favorite secondary
characters is Mark Tapley; a cheerful man who is determined not to let the
world get him down. Mark’s common sense and peaceful manner saves Martin one
too many times from foolishness. True to form from Dickens’ there is an array
of secondary characters. Some of whom are at the forefront, others are lurking
in the shadows requiring us to think about their motives and question whether
they are a hero or villain, which is something all the actors do a stellar job
keeping you in suspense of. But as usual, Dickens’ ties everything together in
the end so that no or little doubt is left lingering in his audiences mind.
of its confusing plot and many characters I don’t think this would hold the
interest of children under the age of twelve. However if you are thinking of
introducing the children in your family to Charles Dickens’, my pick would
definitely lean more towards a production such as this.  As it would happen, this is the one
book-to-screen adaption that is “different” from Dickens’ other works; it just
isn’t as thought-provoking  (the message is one of recognizing selfishness in oneself) or as intricate – in fact it is rather comical at
times. While I still found it to be a worthwhile production, it is not my
favorite, especially after having seen 2006’s Bleak House and Our Mutual
Both of which are superior adaptations – mainly because they have
the benefit of newer filmmaking technology and some great talent backing it. Even still, I found Martin Chuzzlewit not as easy of a story
to be pulled into. Sure, there is still murder and mystery that become tangled
twists, but the first half was a little more of a comedy than the standard by
which we are used to seeing of Dickens (definitely a “lighter” approach is taken). The other minor complaint I have is the
make-up job on some of the characters. It wasn’t nearly as well done as most of
the other BBC productions. (In particular the make-up on Philip Franks: it was
terribly obvious what they were trying to hide. Maybe it was intentional, maybe
not, but whatever, it was just… hideous.) Normally this author’s works offer so
many characters and weaving subplots, we do not know where to fixate the focus
– an aspect that can be overwhelming at times, but it is a characteristic that
is uniquely Charles Dickens. If you haven’t seen any of this author’s works
before, be prepared to want to watch this a second or maybe even third time
through before you are really able to comprehend everything that is happening. But,
a Dickens’ masterpiece is well worth it.
merits a PG rating. Minor
implications of spousal abuse are present. One character is murdered and there
is much talk about poisoning a person.)

About Rissi JC

amateur photog. #bookblogger. downton abbey. inspys. internet-photo-shy. writer. the aspiration is to someday write professionally. a girl can dream, right?

Rissi JC

amateur photog. #bookblogger. downton abbey. inspys. internet-photo-shy. writer. the aspiration is to someday write professionally. a girl can dream, right?

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  • Jeanine (Wayfaring Girl) February 1, 2012 at 5:03 am

    I am a big Dickens fan, no lie, too. And this tale I found to be very enjoyable. You're right, there are a heck of a lot of characters and the names can get a little confusing to follow all storylines at times but it does rap things up so well in the end. I just love the end scene when they all storm in on that nasty Jonas. Love Julia's character too how she undergoes such a huge change. I named a parakeet I had growing up after Mr Chuffy. Heehee Loved him :)

    Good long movie, time well spent :)


  • Rissi February 1, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Dickens is a superior story-teller, Jeanine! There is no question about it.

    I liked this one a lot, too. It seems like it's one of Dickens more obscure novels/movies, but in comparison to Bleak House or some of his other works, it is not hard to figure out why. Don't you think that confusing plots and/or characters is kind of Dickens signature though? It sure seems that way to me. Each of his stories include a multitude of characters that are each… interesting.

    Anyway, as you say, this is an excellent production. =)

    (Ha! That is a funny story about your parakeet – excellent name for it. ;D)

  • AnnaKate February 2, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    I'll have to check this one out! My dad and I share a mania for Dickens, so this might be the next Jackson Family Costume Drama Night… haha.

    Love the new format by the way!

  • Rissi February 2, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    This one is really entertaining, AnnaKate. (My dad likes anything Dickens, too.) It is a bit "different" but still typical Dickens. Enjoy if/when you see it. =)

    Thanks for your thoughts on the layout – I've had some fun adapting it and adding in color (it was basically all gray before!).

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