Monday, March 12, 2018

What friendship is worth-the BBC's "Martin Chuzzlewit"

Just finished watching "Martin Chuzzlewit", the 1994 BBC treatment of the Dickens novel, on DVD. Highly recommended. Paul Scofield stars as Old Martin Chuzzlewit. If you've seen other BBC productions you'll recognize Pete Postlethwaite as Mr. Montague/Mr. Tigg. You might also recognize Graham Stark, who played Clouseau's underling in "A Shot in the Dark".

The story centers on Old Martin Chuzzlewit's vast fortune, his disinherited grandson of the same name, and the conniving attempts of others, including the boundlesly hypocritical Mr. Pecksniff, to win that fortune. Since it's Dickens, most of the characters are either pretty much all good or all bad. Two exceptions are Pecksniff's mostly good daughters Mercy and Charity, who are unwitting victims of their father's plot to get the loot.

Also, since it's Dickens, and since it's the 19th Century, friendship is at least as important a theme as romantic love, and this tale's focus on greed. In fact, friendship among the various male characters is more central to the story than who will marry whom. This was an era when men would write letters to each other and mention their love for each other, and nobody looked askance at it. (Actual homosexuals would've been more discreet-remember what happened to Oscar Wilde).

And so the hero of the story is Tom Pinch, who (spoiler alerts) is loyal to a fault (quite literally) to his friends, but who doesn't get the girl (Mary) he loves in the end-she marries young Martin Chuzzlewit. Who gets most of the money.

Major tear-jerker scene at the end, as Tom's sister comforts him, but he says to her that his getting Mary would have been how things work in books-the "justice", as he puts it, of real life is different.

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