Confession: I'm not a big Dickens fan. Actually, let me clarify that: I've never been a fan of reading Dickens. I've really only made it all the way through Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. I don't know what it is exactly, because his stories are pretty fantastic and have made for some really great TV and film adaptations. There was Bleak House a couple of years ago, and this year, there was Little Dorrit, which I LOVED. Like Bleak House, I don't think I'd ever even heard of the book before, but it turned out to be such a delight. So maybe I do need to go back and try reading Dickens again...
Anyway, as for Little Dorrit, I think one of its biggest surprises for me was Matthew Macfayden. I wasn't impressed with him at all in the Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice...he just wasn't right as Darcy. (And I'm not one of those Colin Firth fangirls who doesn't find any other Darcys acceptable. While Colin Firth is my favorite by far, I did really like Elliot Cowan in this other P&P-related series called Lost in Austen, which I also highly recommend--it's hilarious.) But here, I fell in love with him instantly. Arthur Clennam isn't very Darcy-ish at all...he's friendly and loyal with a good heart, intelligent and determined, and Matthew Macfayden was just perfect for that. He's also a little clueless when it comes to love which kind of makes him even more endearing. His romantic counterpart is Amy Dorrit, played wonderfully by Claire Foy. Amy is supposed to be good and sweet but Foy manages to make her sort of quietly strong and not irritating or boring. Their story is very sweet.
Arthur and Amy are the moral center of the story, but like in all Dickens, they're surrounded by a huge number of richly drawn supporting characters, all with their own subplots weaving in and out of each other. Some of my favorites were Amy's sister, Fanny, who starts off as a kind of mean girl but turns out to be pretty smart; John Chivery, the son of the gatekeeper at the Marshalsea debtors' prison where Amy and her father live, who's in love with Amy (Russell Tovey was excellent in this role...he broke my heart several times); Pancks, a rent-collector and aspiring detective; Cavaletto, an Italian ex-con who gets taken in by the Plornishes, a well-meaning family with lots of children and not a lot of money; Arthur's rigid and cold mother and her cruel servant Flintwinch (gotta love the names Dickens comes up with!); and of course there's William Dorrit, Amy's father. A lot of reviews pointed out how timely this production seemed, given that there's a a remarkably Madoff-like Ponzi scheme on many of the characters. Mr. Dorrit goes through a number of reversals of fortune, and he never really adjusts. He's a really complex character--proud but childish, a loving father but somewhat deluded and Tom Courtenay does a excellent job with the role.
It aired as a five-part series which seems like it would be enough time, but I really wanted even more. Some of the storylines were not really resolved, not having read the book I'm not sure if that's the case in the source material too, and I was left with a couple of questions. But overall I think it was the best Masterpiece series this season. I'll definitely be adding this to my growing DVD collection of British period dramas.