Unfinished works might excite a flurry of promise in fans of a popular author. But then the question, does that mean that screenwriters should attempt to better it by putting finishing touches on it? They test this theory in the incomplete manuscript by Charles Dickens.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2011) BBC TV Miniseries Review

The relationship John Jasper (Matthew Rhys) has with his orphaned nephew is a curious one. Long holding the position of choir director, he appears one way to parishioners, but in reality he hides behind addiction. His one secret habit lies in his frequent trips to opium dens; his second is craving the attentions of a young schoolgirl named Rosa Bud (Tamzin Merchant). He harbors feelings for the pretty-faced Rosa, but much to his chagrin, they intend the girl for his young nephew Edwin (Freddie Fox). Edwin is a young man with grand ambitions, determined to see the world. His betrothal to Rosa leaves Jasper enraged – and plotting revenge. Even though Edwin will inherit a large fortune upon his marriage, Jasper is not about to give up wanting Rosa. Into this already sordid triangle walks a set of twin siblings.

‘THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD’ (2011). Sharing thoughts on the unfinished manuscript by Dickens as adapted by the BBC. Text © Rissi JC

Newly arrived on British soil from India, the siblings arrive for a proper British education. Helena (Amber Rose Revah) gets on famously with Rosa, who soon confides in her new schoolmate of the terror Jasper makes her feel. Meanwhile Helena’s brother, Neville (Sacha Dhawan) and Edwin often clash – Neville despises how Edwin treats Rosa, and  then Edwin disappears. Unable to see her friend caught between a man she must take as husband and a man who mistreats her, Helena takes her concerns to the pastor. This sets into motion a chain reaction that will forever change the lives of these people.

Long before seeing this, I read that this is Dickens darkest to date. Respectfully, I disagree. The two-part film is sometimes… disturbing but I think those who frequently watch Dickens will not find this any more so than the others to come from this author’s brilliant imagination. I’d even argue that some of the prior BBC adaptations are much, much more sinister. Like most stories Mr. Dickens penned, each has their share of “dark” shadows hanging over its characters and in that, also us but what I appreciate about his unique style beyond any philosophical meanings is his ability to write a happy ending. This ending feels as if it’s not fully set up but then that, ultimately isn’t something to ruin this production.

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‘THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD’ (2011). Sharing thoughts on the unfinished manuscript by Dickens as adapted by the BBC. Text © Rissi JC

To say the least, this film is interesting. There is something consuming about the story but to be honest, it is a twisted one. Mostly taking place outdoors makes the filming a“lighter” than usual balancing out the darker potential. As the villainous character, Jasper is one of the “best.” He is intensely unlikable and we love to detest him because Rhys makes it so easy to do so. His lurking in the shadows and possessive or obsessive nature is deplorable; whether he is under the influence of an opium daze or in control of his faculties, he is still… creepy! Then there is Edwin. For once, we don’t even hold a genuine desire to cheer for Dickens young hero. Once his ending rolls around we do get a better impression of him – almost as if the rejection makes him see things differently and he grows up in the best sense. The entire cast brings something to the movie, and it’s fun to see Tamzin in something again as well as the supporting cast consisting of Alun Armstrong and Julia McKenzie.

Despite audiences’ skepticism, I think the writer did a bang up job of completing this story. It felt true to the character of Dickens and seemed an appropriate tribute to him. Most of the screen time is either full of crazy antics or strange behavior but there are rare moments when laughter is the only appropriate response. It feels like a cliché because other reviewers felt the same way but I cannot help that but agree. I think part one has much more vigor and a lot more going for it. Part two is equally entertaining and retains the characters but I think there’s too many flaws with some subplots. Additionally, I find it interesting to see the end of Rosa’s story considering she questions “true love” more than once. That feels like one string that isn’t neat – but then, I can “accept” it.

Despite the few flaws that I would like to be different, the writing weaves a tight, fabulous mystery; one that might even leave you with your mouth agape. If you like Dickens, then this is a wonderful addition to your library. It may not be exactly how Dickens would complete things but if it’s one thing, they do approach this in typical Dickens fashion. Bravo to the filmmakers on a job well done. 

You can watch The Mystery of Edwin Drood digitally on Amazon Video with a BritBox add on

Content equates to a soft PG13-rating. There are a dozen flashes of a man being strangled [non-graphic] and there is a suicide in which we see the person lying in their own pool of blood; a man is punched. There are some minor implications as regards Jasper’s thoughts of Rosa; he once tears her dress as he grips her arm possessively. One or two scenes take place in an opium den.

About Rissi JC

amateur graphic designer. confirmed bookaholic. bubbl’r enthusiast. critical thinker. miswesterner. social media coordinator. writer.


  1. Charity – it felt like a cliche to say because I saw other reviews that said much the same but yes, the 2nd half (or conclusion) just felt as if it didn't reach its full potential. Still… it is a solid production, and I am happy to have it in my "Dickens collection." =)

    Gwendolyn – this movie is quite interesting. It is dark but then what Dickens story isn't? If you like intrigue, this one has that down pat.

    Thanks – I hope this was informative and not confusing! Sometimes I think my writing is the latter. lol! ;D

  2. Thanks for the review!! Now I'm interested… the characters sound interesting and the costumes look like just the sort to thrill me with their old-timey-ness! ;D

  3. My sister and I watched this recently, and honestly we didn't like it too much. Mainly because of the ending… I don't know, it felt too rushed in a sense and too happy for us. (Or maybe we just like our Dickens really warpped… who knows.) Just in general, it's not my favorite. Now you should see if you can get your hands on Acorn Media's version of Nicholas Nickleby. It's my favorite =)

  4. Rachel – sure! =) This movie has a knack for that – it weaves twists and turns and is really quite brilliant. If you like Dickens style (which is distinct) then you will enjoy this one.

    The costumes are lovely but unfortunately the ladies have few clothing changes unlike some other costume films. Still, everything is really pretty to look at.

    Natalie – oh, really? That is ironic because his leaning to write "happy endings" is what I love about Dickens. After going through all the trials and heartbreaks of the characters, I appreciate his being able to transition into a beautiful ending that can leave us smiling not frowning or wondering why he wrote such a depressing tale. The endings are usually what "tops" off the story. =)

    The second half of this one does feel "rushed" or a bit incomplete but honestly so does Martin Chuzzlewit (man, I wish someone would re-make that!). Dickens work is usually much more… precise or thought-provoking but given the circumstances, I thought this version was great.

    I've just seen the big-screen adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby and while it is considerably "happier" than most, I still love it. One version of that story I've heard nothing but horrible things of but I cannot recall if it was Acorn's take or another. I'll definitely have to do an Amazon search – I am ALWAYS up for a new costume drama. =)

    Thanks, Natalie – I am sorry you didn't like this one. =/

  5. The Acorn version of Nicholas Nickleby is the one with James D'arcy in it. I didn't like it much — too much lecherous/sexual material for my taste. It is closer to the book, though, than the McGrath masterpiece.

  6. I really liked this one! Surprisingly I've never read this book so I can't really say how close it is to what Dickens actually completed but this was definitely a good movie. I really liked that it brought opium addiction into the story because it was such a big problem during that time period. Like a lot of the commentors I feel like they could have drawn the ending out a little more but I still enjoyed it. Masterpiece doesn't often feature a movie I don't like LOL!

    xoxo~ Renee

  7. As did I, Renee. As you say, the ending could have been better but overall, it was one Dickens would have approved… I think. =D

    There is another film set in this time period that uses the opium trade to further its plot but I can't think what it is… it was probably a Masterpiece production (which are yes, usually unforgettable!) so you probably saw it too. How sad that it was something people "relied" on to get by.

  8. Glad to see your review of this and glad to see you enjoyed it! I'm going to be very boring and say I totally agree with everything you wrote in the review.

    To jump in on the Nicholas Nickleby talk going on in this comments, I for one do like the James D'Arcy small screen version better than the large screen version. It has some objectionable content (talking about dark Dickens adaptations), but the acting is much better I think. I mean, Anne Hathaway as a Dickens heroine in totally period innapropriate costumes….

  9. Thanks – I did enjoy this one a lot. It seemed "different" and yet so true to the style we have become accustomed to from Dickens. Great film – one I think I will watch more than just once.

    Oh, really? I'd always heard that version was so content-prone it was hard to "get" the story. I wouldn't mind seeing another version of Nicholas Nickleby, I just haven't gotten around to it yet. Anne does an admirable job for the 2 hours but yes, were it a mini-series, I may have taken issue with her casting. =)

    So glad you dropped by, Birdienl.

  10. I only watched that version of Nicholas Nickleby very recently as well. I'm doing a 'watch-all-modern-Dickens-adaptations-I've-not-yet-watched' for the bicentennial ;-) Reading all the books I've not yet read would a) hardly be able within a year and b) not leave me any time for other books!

    I personally didn't think there was that much more content in it than in some other Dickens adaptations (including this Edwin Drood), but you should judge for yourself!

  11. I am definitely all for watching another version of N.N. I guess it just is something I've "forgotten" over the years. Now that you brought it up again, I'll have to look into one. =D

    Me and Dickens (or Austen. Or any classic author) don't get along when it comes to reading the books. I love the adaptations but the books… It never happens.

    Thanks, Birdienl! =)

  12. I know, right!?

    I think I am just so used to contemporary fiction that reading classic works is a struggle for me. The only novel I did get through of Austen's is "S&S" and I have been plotting through "Abbey" for simply FORever! By now, I'd probably need to go back to the beginning. Ah, well! Maybe someday I'll get through more of her novels.

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