Having watched a few Dickens adaptations over the years, the one I’ve kept going back to more than any other (and decided I needed to own after just the first watch!) is Our Mutual Friend. Showcasing the wonderful knack Dickens used in many of his works of expertly weaving divergent storylines and a complex and entertaining large cast of characters into an interconnected mosaic, I adore this one’s plot and the way the BBC in 1998 brought it to the screen.
Produced as a miniseries comprising 4 episodes about an hour and a half long each, Sandy Welch wrote its script (she later also gave us the much acclaimed and beloved 2004 North & South, the 2006 Jane Eyre, and the 2009 Emma adaptations). The roster of stars they cast is cause for admiration, boasting Keeley Hawes, Anna Friel, Dominic Mafham, Paul McGann, and Steven Mackintosh (the latter two also going on to co-star with each other again in Season 1 of Luther!), as well as a whole raft of other brilliant British actors.
The major driving force of this atmospheric story revolves around the mystery of a murder and a case of mistaken/false identity, both the means through which the main cast of characters intersect and become irrevocably entwined with one another. There are also two predominate romantic threads I adore. The first belongs to the complicated relationship that Bella Wilfur and John Harmon embark on, the primary connection at the centre of the narrative. John Harmon was the intended victim of the murder… but he’s the only one that knows it. Seeing his ‘death’ as the opportunity he needs to observe the woman his father betrothed him to (whom he has never met), he passes himself off as a witness to the crime. This charade and their hard-won love kicks everything else into motion, including the second romance.
Centered around Eugene Wrayburn (friend of Mortimer, the lawyer in charge of Harmon’s estate) and Lizzie Hexam (who found the body with her father), although their story is definitely not without its tragedy (this is Dickens, after all), they persevere, balancing each other out perfectly. Lizzie’s calm, industrious grace, backbone of steel, and spirit of light capture his attention from the very start, shaking him out of his general malaise towards life. Meanwhile, his interest in her and efforts to better her circumstances through providing the services of a tutor, and eventually marriage, are like a balm to her bruised and ill-treated heart, inspiring a feeling of wonder. But why am I still talking? The below quotes sum their beautiful relationship up with much more eloquence than I ever could:
Lizzie: And yet I love him. I love him so much and so dearly. When I think my life may be weary, I am proud of it and glad of it to suffer something for him. I may never see him again. His eyes may never look at me again but… I would not have the light of them taken out of my life for anything my life can give me.
Eugene: Oh Lizzie, I never thought there was a woman in the world who could affect me so much. You don’t know how you haunt me, you bewilder me. You don’t know how the carelessness that helps me at every other stage of my life cannot help me now. You’ve struck it dead.
The steadfast friendship between Eugene and Mortimer is another aspect I love, their brotherly bond strong and entertaining in equal measure. Lizzie and Bella’s growing friendship is also a joy to watch. While unfortunately not featured in many scenes together, the ones they are in are enough to leave the impression that they share a warm, loyal, sisterly affection. Lizzie also gives Bella some much needed perspective on the nature of love, helping her finally crack that last wall of pride and ambition and open her heart to John.
The way the main threads of this tale are so carefully crafted and layered with additional, smaller storylines featuring characters such as Jenny Wren and Sloppy, Silas Wegg and Mr. Venus, Mr. Headstone and Rogue Riderhood, and the Lammies, is nothing short of brilliance. Romance, intrigue, scheming, hard lessons learned, revenge, humor, sacrifice, and love in all its forms abound throughout, interwoven together to create the colorful tapestry encased and on display in this one-of-a-kind miniseries.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hopeless romantic, fervent bibliophile, and aspiring word-smith, Kirsty Pearce also has a deep love for fantasy, fairy tales, & history. With a wide range of TV obsessions from Outlander, Bitten, & Grimm, to Dancing With The Stars, Nikita, & Horrible Histories, she enjoys watching as many Hallmark films as possible, knitting, baking, and sharing all her fan-girl thoughts on her blog.